The two top-rated boys basketball teams remain on an apparent collision course, and the No. 1 girls team will be looking to avoid a letdown after winning the biggest game in its classification this season.
Those are the biggest stories as the Class AAAAAA basketball tournament heads to the University of West Georgia for its semifinal games on Saturday.
Hughes, the No. 1-ranked boys team and defending state champion, rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Coffee 61-57 Wednesday in the quarterfinals. No. 2 Gainesville advanced with a 111-66 victory over Lakeside-Evans on Tuesday, reaching the semifinals for the first time since its 2013 team finished as state runner-up.
The top-ranked Lovejoy girls outscored No. 2 Winder-Barrow 12-6 in the final 2:40 of overtime for a 68-67 victory, putting the Wildcats in the semifinals for the second consecutive season and the second time in school history.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s semifinals and the participating teams:
(All games Saturday at West Georgia)
Heritage-Conyers vs. Gainesville, 4 p.m.
*Heritage: The Patriots (17-8) won the Region 3 championship but are the only unranked team in the boys or girls tournament still standing in Class AAAAAA. Heritage reached the semifinals with a 58-53 victory over Region 7 champion North Atlanta, ending the Warriors’ 10-game winning streak in the process. Messiah Thompson led all scorers with 19 points and put the Patriots ahead for good with a 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining. Heritage is in the semifinals for the first time since 1985 and third time in school history.
*Gainesville: The Red Elephants have won 20 consecutive games since a 3-6 start, and they’ve really been pouring it on in the postseason. Gainesville beat Apalachee and Dacula in the Region 8 tournament by an average of 20.5 points and then won its first three state tournament games – against Pope, Alexander and Lakeside – by an average of 35.3 points. Xavier Bledson scored 23 points in the victory over Lakeside. Ka’Juan Hale scored 22 points, and KJ Buffen had 18, including 12 in the first quarter.
Hughes vs. Jonesboro, 8 p.m.
*Hughes: The Panthers (25-5) have won 10 consecutive games, including three in the playoffs against Allatoona, Lanier and Coffee by an average of 7.7 points. Landers Nolley, a Virginia Tech signee who is averaging 30.2 points and 8.0 rebounds this season, scored 34 in the quarterfinal victory over Coffee and is averaging 29.7 in the state tournament. He also scored 39 points in a 76-62 victory over Jonesboro in a scrimmage game before this season, according to the Clayton News-Daily. Hughes is the champion of Region 5.
*Jonesboro: The sixth-ranked Cardinals are the only team remaining (boys or girls) that didn’t win a region title, although they finished tied for first place in Region 4 with Stephenson in the regular season. Forward Jamari Smith, the team’s top player, has taken it up a notch in the playoffs. He had 32 points and 12 rebounds in a 72-64 quarterfinal victory over Tri-Cities and is averaging 28.7 and 11.7 in the tournament. The Cardinals, state champions in 2014 and 2015, are in the semifinals for the sixth time in eight years.
(All games Saturday at West Georgia)
Northview vs. Lovejoy, 2 p.m.
*Northview: No. 4-ranked Northview (24-6) reached the semifinals for the second consecutive season and second time in school history with a 61-57 victory Tuesday over Coffee. Region 7 player of the year Ashlee Austin scored 24 points and had a season-high 15 rebounds. She averages 16.5 and 9.7 for the season. Eden Sample scored 17 points against Coffee and averages 13.1. Asjah Inniss was a first-team all-region selection. A victory against Lovejoy would put the Titans in the championship game for the first time.
*Lovejoy: Winder-Barrow’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa, a Connecticut signee, had 24 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocks against Lovejoy in the quarterfinals, but the star of the show was the Wildcats’ Genesis Bryant. She scored 24 of her 33 points in the second half and overtime to lead Lovejoy (30-1) back to the semifinals. The Wildcats were eliminated last season by eventual state champion Mays 50-42. Lovejoy has won 21 consecutive games since its only loss, a 56-53 setback against Region 4 rival Stephenson on Dec. 16.
Douglas County vs. Harrison, 6 p.m.
*Douglas County: The No. 7-ranked Tigers are 20-2 since starting the season 4-4. They are making their third semifinal appearance in eight years and the sixth in program history. Junior forward Amari Robinson is averaging 24.2 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots and was named the Region 5 player of the year. The Tigers’ closest playoff game was a 78-61 victory over River Ridge in the first round. They’ve since beaten Region 7 runner-up Pope and Region 1 champion Valdosta by an average of 31.5 points.
*Harrison: The third-ranked Hoyas’ quarterfinal game was pushed back to Thursday after their original opponent, No. 8 Tucker, was disqualified from the tournament for violating the GHSA’s recruiting rules. Instead, Harrison (25-4) played Bradwell Institute and won easily, 66-37. Sarah Woghiren has been the Hoyas’ leading scorer in the playoffs, but Audrey Jordan and Harper Vick also will merit all-state recognition. Harrison beat Douglas County 73-63 in the quarterfinals last season and finished as state runner-up.
(R3 #1) Heritage-Conyers 58, (R7 #1) North Atlanta 53
(R8 #1) Gainesville 111, (R3 #4) Lakeside-Evans 66
(R5 #1) Hughes 71, (R1 #1) Coffee 67
(R4 #2) Jonesboro 72, (R5 #4) Tri-Cities 64
(R7 #1) Northview 61, (R1 #2) Coffee 57
(R4 #1) Lovejoy 68, (R8 #1) Winder-Barrow 67
(R5 #1) Douglas County 86, (R1 #1) Valdosta 63
(R6 #1) Harrison 66, (R2 #1) Bradwell Institute 37