Posted: 11:56 am Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Girls Hoops: Reasons and consequences after a huge PB Lakes win 

By Anthony Chiang

For the past three years, Davie-Nova meant the end of the road for Palm Beach Lakes. But this season, that changed.

Palm Beach Lakes will play in the state tournament this season for the first time since 2003. (Photo by Bruce Bennett)

After the Titans had ended the Rams’ run at a state title for the the last three years, Lakes put a stop to the trend in a 48-46 victory over Nova in the Class 7A regional finals on Saturday.

There were reasons and consequences that were attached to the win. So let’s get to it.

REASONS

1. Kayla Thigpen: The Lakes junior was brilliant down the stretch. After an inefficient start, Thigpen regrouped and willed her team to the victory by scoring a game-high 21 points.

Rams junior Kayla Thigpen scored a game-high 21 points on Saturday. (Photo by Bruce Bennett)

But the last five points she scored were the most important. Thigpen, who transferred from Atlantic to Lakes in the offseason, scored five of the Rams’ final seven points of the game Saturday to break a 41-41 tie. The guard also recorded a big steal with five seconds left and Lakes leading by just one point.

“I turned it over and every time I turn it over, coaches just tell me to get it back,” Thigpen said of the steal. “That’s all I thought of and I just got it back.”

Thigpen was clearly the best player on the court in a game between the state’s top two Class 7A teams Saturday. After the contest, she was emotional and let tears fall down her face. It was for good reason, as Thigpen had just led her team to the state tournament in Lakeland.

2. Full-court press: The key to Lakes’ success this season has been its full-court press.

That didn’t change Saturday. The press defense held Nova to just 20 points in the second half, as the Titans had trouble getting past the pressure.

It also helped pick up the game’s pace, which plays right into what Lakes likes to do — RUN. Turnovers allowed the Rams to get easy buckets in transition, which has been a big part of Lakes’ offense this season.

“That’s what has gotten us this far,” Lakes coach Cassandra Rahming said of her team’s press defense. “We have to stick with what has gotten us here and we just stayed with the game plan.”

The press defense will continue to be part of the Rams’ identity, as they head to Lakeland.

3. Free-throw shooting: Even though the Rams made just nine of their 21 shots from the free-throw line, Lakes made them when it counted.

Trailing 41-37 in the fourth quarter, the Rams went on to hit seven of their next 10 free throws to build the two-point lead that won them the game.

Sophomore Dominique Green made four of her six shots from the charity stripe, and Thigpen made three of four.

Also, pay attention to the 21 free throws Lakes took Saturday. That’s a big amount compared to Nova’s 10. This discrepancy allowed the Rams to finish with a five-point advantage from the line.

CONSEQUENCES

1. Lakeland: With the win, the Rams advances to play in the state tournament for the first time since 2003. In 2003, Lakes finished as the state runner-up.

First up for the Rams is a matchup with Apopka-Wekiva on Thursday at 8:30 p.m in the Class 7A state semifinals. Wekiva has a 24-6 record. The closest thing Wekiva has come to playing a team from Palm Beach County this season, is when they took on Fort Lauderdale-Dillard, Lauderdale Lakes-Boyd Anderson and Plantation-American Heritage from Broward County. The Mustangs lost two of those three games, only beating Boyd Anderson.

“We’re not finished,” Rahming said. “We’re not just satisfied with getting there.”

2. Favorite to win title: The Rams will travel to Lakeland as the favorite to win the Class 7A state championship. Before Saturday’s game, Nova was the state’s top-ranked Class 7A team and Lakes was No. 2.

Now, that’s not the case. The Rams are seen as the top 7A team and they will be expected to come back to Palm Beach County as champions.

3. Rahming’s legacy: Lakes coach Cassandra Rahming continues to add to her list of accomplishments.

Palm Beach Lakes coach Cassandra Rahming led the Rams to a state runner-up finish in 2003. (Photo by Bruce Bennett)

In the 16 seasons Rahming has been the Lakes coach, the Rams have missed the regional playoffs just three times and finished as the state runner-up in 2003. If Rahming can help Lakes win a state title this week, it will just be further evidence that she is one of the top girls basketball coaches in Florida.

Rahming surprised her team with black warm-up shirts with “NO EXCUSES” printed on the back of them in big pink letters. Since Lakes started wearing the shirts in the district tournament, it has been the team’s motto.

“Last year, I don’t think we had excuses,” Rahming said. “It was just a situation where we didn’t take care of business in that last game. This year, we’re just going to lay it all on the line. There’s not going to be any excuses. If we lost, it’s going to be because they outplayed us.”