Starkville senior Jariyah Covington (12) and the Lady Jackets stand three wins away from repeating as state champions. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
March 1, 2018 10:26:41 PM
STARKVILLE -- Kristie Williams knows what so-called buttons to push to get Jariyah Covington going in a game; it's quite the nice quality to have on one of the team's most crucial scorers.
Williams did just that when Covington started slow in the Starkville High School girls basketball team's win in the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A playoffs, 66-54 over Clinton. She's ready to do it again if needed in the quarterfinals, 9 a.m. Saturday at Jackson State against St. Martin.
"I've been knowing her since she was toddler-sized and we have a good relationship," Williams, Starkville's coach, said. "She responds well to it; she just gets down on herself. It's something she has to grow out of."
After the talk, Covington's fourth-quarter surge gave her 22 points. With the cast around her, Covington doesn't need that help from Williams all that often.
Convington scores in double-digits with regularity but she is not alone: Jalissa Outlaw and Tabreea Gandy do the same for the Lady Jackets. It does keep any one of them from putting up 30 points with any consistency, but forcing defenses to deal with all of them simultaneously allows all of them to be very active in the offense.
"Once we find out rhythm, it's kind of hard to stop us," Covington said. "Me and Jalissa shoot the 3-ball more than Tabreea will; she's the driver and we're more of the shooters. If she sees one of us is on, she'll come to our side of the court to pull the defense and give it to us."
As Williams sees it, "That's the key for us, we don't have only one player that can do that. You look up and Jalissa Outlaw has 15 in a game or Tabreea Gandy is hitting that corner 3 and it's on that night; you take one away, you still have to contend with the other."
It's the blend of the three of them that makes Covington's job particularly crucial: Gandy's driving ability is easy to dedicate resources to if Covington isn't making her perimeter shots. This is another aspect where the dynamic between Williams and Covington proves valuable: she can place high expectations on her without crossing into overbearing.
"She's definitely one of our leaders," Williams said. "It's expected of her, too. It's not games here and there, it's the expectation we had for her coming into her senior year and she's risen to the occasion every single time."
Covington is part of a senior class that is well versed in rising to the biggest occasions, as it did last year on its run to the state championship game it will try to reach once more over the weekend. Williams is convinced Covington, Gandy, Carly Evans and Kirsten Thompson all will prove to be vital resources in that respect.
"I think it's going to be an experience factor for us," Williams said. "We know what it takes to get to this point, we know what it takes to get to the next phase. If we're down in a game, we're not going to get rattled, we know what to do to get it."
That applies to Covington's shot, as well. At Jackson State, Starkville is going to need Covington's shot more than it ever has before if it is going to make a run like it did last year.
She knows she'll have help.
"I couldn't do it without them," Covington said of Gandy and Outlaw. "They know when I'm hot to get the ball to me."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
2. Peters has moved from 'distraction' to 'leader' COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Wallace helps The W improve to 10-2 COLLEGE SPORTS
4. MSU women face longest road trip of season COLLEGE SPORTS