RIVER RIDGE — From the stands, John Curtis Christian’s players and coaches watched St. Thomas Aquinas employ a nonstop, full-court press during last Friday’s 66-60 Class 2A semifinal win against Pickering.

Curtis, which had already advanced to Saturday night’s girls basketball championship game at the University of Louisiana-Monroe’s Fant-Ewing Coliseum, saw in person how hard St. Thomas Aquinas played, how devoted it was to disrupting opponents’ offenses, how motivated it was about winning a state title.

“To see that intensity and that focus first hand — we can convey it all we want and try to break down film and go against boys (in practice) and say, ‘This is how hard they’re going to play,’ ” Curtis coach Barbara Farris said.

“It’s different when you see it first hand and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is what it really looks like. Coach wasn’t just blowing smoke.’ ”

Curtis (24-7), the defending 2A champion, enters as a four seed, 67-59 winners last Thursday against top-seeded University Lab.

Guard Kolby Morgan is the lone returning starter from last year’s championship team, but her effort this season — she scored 33 points in the 2A state semifinal s — has helped Curtis return to the title game.

St. Thomas Aquinas (29-5), a second seed, is playing like it wants 2013 to be its championship season.

It all starts with the press.

For Curtis, breaking the press starts with Morgan, Tia Charles and Detorian Henderson.

John Curtis’ bench usually plays six-deep in the playoffs, but Farris said that could change. Every player needs to be ready, especially ball handlers.

“It gave us a heads up of what we have to look out for,” Morgan said. “When they press, we have to at least look up for our post players to be able to finish down low.”

Curtis has faced full-court presses this season, but not for 32 minutes, as it could Saturday night.

“It was pretty impressive, but I think with the guards that we have, we have an advantage and can break it easily to get our fastbreaks,” guard Tia Charles said. “Because once we break it, they’re probably going to have to get out of it and try to guard us on man.”

Against Pickering, Amber Donnes led St. Thomas Aquinas with 25 points and 13 rebounds.

Donnes averages 18 points a game for Aquinas, the 2010 2A champions.

Teammates Carly Keller (16 ppg) and Alli Bellairs (10 ppg) are the team’s other scoring options

Regardless of how many turnovers St. Thomas Aquinas tallies because of its press, regardless of how many points it surrenders because of it, the team utilizes the press as a way to slow down teams, forcing their offenses to becomedisoriented. Which is why Farris is preparing Curtis to not only beat the press, but once it does, to remember to take smart shots. Take the shots it wants to take, not the ones St. Thomas Aquinas tries to force it to take.