In a tournament in which most of the top teams have advanced with little trouble, it was almost inevitable that Lovejoy and Winder-Barrow would run into each other.
It turns out that they’ll meet on Tuesday in the quarterfinals, meaning that one of the top two Class AAAAAA girls basketball teams won’t make it to the semifinals. That’s what often happens when a bracket isn’t seeded from top to bottom. In fact, it will also happen this week in Class AAAAAAA, where No. 1 Westlake will meet No. 2 Collins Hill, and in Class AA, where No. 1 Laney will face No. 2 Banks County.
Kimberly Garren, coach of second-ranked Winder-Barrow, isn’t one to dwell on having to play the No. 1-ranked team midway through the tournament.
“I’m just a firm believer that sometimes it falls however it falls,” she said. “If you want to win the state championship, you should be able to beat anybody anyway, no matter when you see them. My kids are up for the challenge, so I don’t much mind it.”
Higher-seeded teams went 21-3 in the first two rounds of the Class AAAAAA girls tournament, and Coffee is the only quarterfinalist that wasn’t in the top 10 coming into the tournament.
Lovejoy (29-1) has outscored its first two state-tournament opponents – Lakeside-Evans and Northside-Warner Robins – by a combined score of 106-42. The Wildcats have won 20 consecutive games since their only loss, 56-53 against Stephenson on Dec. 16. A victory on Tuesday would put Lovejoy in the semifinals for the second consecutive season and second time in school history.
The Wildcats are led by sophomore point guard Genesis Bryant. She was an honorable mention all-state selection as a freshman and was named the Region 4 co-player of the year this season. Teammates Anaya Boyd (first team), Kayla Brown (second team) and Lashanti Blount (honorable mention) also made the all-region team.
Winder-Barrow (24-4) was the state runner-up in 2016 and reached the quarterfinals last season. The Bulldoggs have won 11 straight since their last loss, an 81-51 setback on Jan. 15 against Riverdale, the top-ranked team in Tennessee. They beat Johns Creek (54-35) and ninth-ranked Creekview (61-49) in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Winder-Barrow is led by Connecticut signee Olivia Nelson-Ododa. The 6-foot-4 post is averaging 19 points, 16 rebounds, 5.5 blocks, three assists and two steals and was named the Region 8 player of the year. She also earned an invitation to the McDonald’s All-American game on March 28 in Philips Arena. Teammates Chellia Watson, Latrice Perkins and Jakayla Sullivan joined her on the all-region team this season.
The winner will play in the semifinals Saturday at West Georgia against Coffee or Northview.
“I think the kids are ready,” Garren said. “They’re focused, and they’ve known the goal all year. We’ve talked about every game being practice for the ultimate goal. So I think they have the weapons that they need to be successful.”
Third-ranked Harrison and No. 4 Northview can’t be overlooked, however. Harrison (24-4) was the state runner-up last year and is undefeated against AAAAAA teams this season. Northview (23-6) is the Region 7 champion and was a semifinalist last year.
On the boys’ side, top-ranked Hughes and No. 2 Gainesville are the heavy favorites, especially after seeing six of the other eight top-10 teams eliminated in the first two rounds, including No. 3 Brunswick and No. 7 Douglas County on Thursday.
Hughes (24-5) is the defending champion and has just one loss to a Class AAAAAA team, a 70-66 setback against Alexander in a game in which the Panthers’ top player, Virginia Tech signee Landers Nolley, didn’t play. Nolley is averaging 30 points per game and has scored at least 50 twice this season.
Gainesville (22-6) is the hottest team around, having won 19 consecutive games since a 3-6 start.
Other boys teams in the quarterfinals are No. 6 Jonesboro, No. 9 North Atlanta, Heritage-Conyers, Lakeside-Evans, Coffee and Tri-Cities.
State tournament scores, schedule
(R7 #1) North Atlanta 91, (R5 #2) Douglas County 79
(R3 #1) Heritage-Conyers 83, (R2 #3) Bradwell Institute 73
(R8 #1) Gainesville (R5 #3) Alexander 57
(R3 #4) Lakeside-Evans 68, (R2 #2) Richmond Hill 58
(R5 #1) Hughes 70, (R8 #3) Lanier 57
(R1 #1) Coffee 74, (R3 #2) Grovetown 70
(R5 #4) Tri-Cities 84, (R8 #2) Dacula 67
(R4 #2) Jonesboro 62, (R2 #1) Brunswick 51
(R3 #1) Heritage-Conyers at (R7 #1) North Atlanta, 7 p.m. Wednesday
(R3 #4) Lakeside-Evans at (R8 #1) Gainesville, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
(R1 #1) Coffee at (R5 #1) Hughes, 7 p.m. Wednesday
(R5 #4) Tri-Cities at (R4 #2) Jonesboro, 7 p.m. Wednesday
(Saturday at West Georgia)
(R3 #1) Heritage-Conyers/(R7 #1) North Atlanta winner vs. (R3 #4) Lakeside-Evans/(R8 #1) Gainesville winner, 4 p.m.
(R1 #1) Coffee/(R5 #1) Hughes winner vs. (R5 #4) Tri-Cities/(R4 #2) Jonesboro winner, 8 p.m.
(R7 #1) Northview 55, (R5 #2) New Manchester 35
(R1 #2) Coffee 55, (R4 #4) Stephenson 50
(R8 #1) Winder-Barrow 61, (R6 #2) Creekview 49
(R4 #1) Lovejoy 52, (R1 #3) Northside-Warner Robins 23
(R5 #1) Douglas County 85, (R7 #2) Pope 45
(R1 #1) Valdosta 67, (R3 #2) Greenbrier 51
(R6 #1) Harrison 61, (R8 #2) Lanier 54
(R4 #2) Tucker 54, (R2 #1) Bradwell Institute 35
(R1 #2) Coffee at (R7 #1) Northview, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
(R4 #1) Lovejoy at (R8 #1) Winder-Barrow, 6 p.m. Tuesday
(R1 #1) Valdosta at (R5 #1) Douglas County, 7 p.m. Tuesday
**(R3 #3) Grovetown/(R2 #1) Bradwell Institute at (R6 #1) Harrison, Thursday
(Saturday at West Georgia)
(R1 #2) Coffee/(R7 #1) Northview winner vs. (R4 #1) Lovejoy/(R8 #1) Winder-Barrow winner, 2 p.m.
(R1 #1) Valdosta/(R5 #1) Douglas County winner vs. (R3 #3) Grovetown/(R2 #1) Bradwell Institute/(R6 #1) Harrison winner, 6 p.m.
**Note: Region 4 runner-up Tucker originally was to be Harrison’s quarterfinal opponent, but Tucker was forced by the GHSA to vacate its spot in the playoffs for violating rules regarding recruiting and undue influence. Grovetown and Bradwell Institute, the team’s that lost to Tucker in the first two rounds, will meet Wednesday night, with the winner to play at Harrison on Thursday.