Starkville High School’s Tabreea Gandy protects the basketball Wednesday in her team’s 41-36 victory against Olive Branch on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff Buy this photo.
December 28, 2017 10:39:51 AM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High School teammates Kirsten Thompson and Jalisa Outlaw had different viewpoints on their team's win Wednesday afternoon.
"I approached this like any other game," Outlaw said. "I always want to win. It was our next game, so I wanted to win. There wasn't anything special other than wanting to win."
Outlaw scored 19 points as Starkville held off Olive Branch 41-36 in a heavyweight matchup of Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) powers at the Travis Outlaw Slam Dunk at the Hump at Humphrey Coliseum.
A year ago, Olive Branch beat Starkville 57-54 in the Class 6A State championship game. The MHSAA voided the victory and awarded Starkville the title because Olive Branch played an ineligible player.
This season, both teams are again among the state's elite. However, there will be no rematch in the playoffs because Olive Branch dropped to Class 5A this season.
"It was personal," Thompson said. "We wanted to prove we were the real state champions on the court. This game was huge for us. It meant a lot. We really wanted to go out and show what we are made of. We want to be champions again."
Coach Kristie Williams' squad had to claw its way past several opponents to reach the state championship game last season. The come-from-behind victory against Olive Branch could serve a similar purpose.
"You don't want it to be easy. You certainly don't expect it to be easy," Williams said. "This is the kind of game you grow from. Every possession was intense. The mistakes are magnified. The good execution is magnified. We had some unforced turnovers, and that made it harder. However, very proud of how we kept battling."
The graduation of Kelsey Jones gave Olive Branch a slight advantage in the post. Starkville countered with strong outside shooting and defensive pressure that forced turnovers.
"Our defense was excellent," Thompson said. "There's no secret to the game, though. We were just out there doing what we are coached to do. Get back, hustle, guard hard, deny passes. We were doing a little bit of it all out there. That is why we felt good about our chances to win the game."
Starkville scored the final six points of the first quarter to lead 11-6. The fast start was highlighted by three blocked shots from Thompson. Olive Branch righted the ship and the lead switched hands a couple of times in a tight, defensive-oriented second quarter.
Olive Branch (10-2) scored the first four points of the third quarter to build a 22-19 lead. The Lady Conquistadors lost the lead but reclaimed it on a pair of baskets to go up 27-23. The lead would stand at 33-28 with 6 minutes, 14 seconds remaining.
That's when Outlaw scored eight-straight points and Starkville held Olive Branch 5:15 without a point.
After Outlaw's flurry, Amaria Strong split a pair of free throws and Tabreea Gandy scored on a putback to end an 11-0 run for a 39-33 lead.
"I was just out there making shots," Outlaw said. "I really didn't have anything else on my mind, other than winning the game. It was good to get the team the lead. We have confidence in everybody on this team. It doesn't matter who is making the shots. As long as we play great defense, someone is going to step up and knock down the shots."
Jariyah Covington had 12 points for the Lady Jackets.
"This was a state tournament-type game," Williams said. "To be able to survive will be something we can look back on when region play starts in January. It was the type of game we needed from a confidence standpoint. It's a big lift."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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