February 28, 2012 8:48:00 AM
PHEBA -- Push, pull, prod, bump, elbow.
You name it, Hebron Christian senior center Tori Nichols has felt it from opponents. You can't blame them, really, because Nichols has been so dominant that two and three players often have trouble slowing her down so they have to resort to any means necessary to gain a stalemate or an advantage.
"We will put three girls on her in practice and let them drag on her, pull on her, and snag her," Hebron Christian coach William Cotton said. "She deals with it. She does everything. ... When you're averaging 28 points and more than 20 rebounds and you're averaging 10-11 blocked shots a game, you're not sitting there watching everybody else play."
Nichols overcame the defensive attention last week to earn a pair of triple-doubles against Mt. Salus Academy and Tri-County Academy in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class A state tournament at Delta Academy in Marks.
Nichols' 39-point, 18-rebound, 11-blocked shots effort against Tri-County on Saturday helped Hebron Christian (25-11) finish third in Class A and earn a spot in the MAIS overall state tournament.
For her accomplishments, Nichols is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
Nichols, who last month signed a scholarship to play basketball at Division II Southern Arkansas in the fall, had 24 points, 22 rebounds, and 13 blocks Friday in a 48-41 overtime loss to Mt. Salus Academy.
Nichols said teams will try a variety of tricks to throw her off her game. She said most times she faces a defender in front who attempts to deny passes and a defender behind her to prevent her from moving. She feels she has learned how to handle all of the attention better.
"It was frustrating at first, but I realized getting mad about it isn't going to help and I just have to play harder and maybe they will call it," Nichols said.
Cotton, who is in his first season as girls basketball coach, agrees.
"It is just something she has grown accustomed to," Cotton said. "They dealt with it last year to a point, but more so this year. We had some pretty good outside shooting last year that helped keep things balanced. This year, we are running primarily a post-oriented offense. We have some good outside shooters, but we are sporadic. On the nights we're off, it makes it a lot harder on her because they will sink two and three girls on her."
Cotton was pleased the referees at the state tournament last week at Delta Academy allowed the kids to play. He said they kept the games safe and made the teams play "clean." He said that benefits Nichols, who is 6-foot-3 and has long arms.
Nichols said all of her teammates have played key roles in her success because they have worked on learning the best ways to get her the ball. She smiles describing her play and that she doesn't have the best leaping ability so she has to rely on her teammates to recognize defenses and the best places to deliver passes.
Nichols also said she has to balance her aggressiveness because she doesn't want to knock defenders down going for passes or when she turns toward the basket to make a move or to attempt a shot.
Nichols, who lives in Houston, didn't know she had as successful a stretch as she did at the state tournament. She said she has worked to improve her ballhandling and that she sometimes doesn't rebound as well as she should.
Next year, though, Nichols, who plays Amateur Athletic Union basketball with the Birmingham (Ala.) Road Runners, knows she will have to raise her level of play. She has the potential to step right in and contribute as a post player, and she said she is looking forward to realizing her goal to play basketball in college. Nichols also was a standout on the school's fast-pitch softball team.
"I never expected it to happen," said Nichols, who also played AAU basketball with the Ripley Lady Ballerz and the Northeast Mississippi Hoop Dreams squad. "Southern Arkansas didn't start to recruit me until a little into the season. ... It still is weird this is our last week of playing high school ball. I think with the trainers they will have helping me, hopefully, I will be OK."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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