St. Thomas More coach Stephen Strojny thought his team had top-seeded Lee Magnet High right where they wanted them. The Cougars trailed by 12 points after three quarters.
Instead of being the recipe for an upset, the final period was a showcase for the Patriots, who scored the first 24 points while running away with a 72-35 victory in a Division II girls basketball quarterfinal played Thursday night at Lee.
The words from Lee coach Valencia Wilson during the huddle after the third quarter proved to be instructional and prophetic.
“I told them we have to play our basketball,” Wilson said. “I don’t believe we did that, especially in the third quarter. We were playing their game and not doing what we do best, which is play pressure basketball. We adjusted our defense to what they were doing. That allowed us to build the lead.”
Lee (34-2) advances to the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Basketball tournament for the third straight year. The Patriots play Ursuline Academy, a 49-36 winner over Teurlings Catholic, in the semifinals. A’Niya Lagarde led a balanced Lee attack with 19 points. Raegan Williams and 6-foot-6 Makya Spears each had 12, while Iviona Hatch finished with 10.
No. 8 STM (25-8) played a box-and-two defense aimed at limiting scoring chances for Diamond Hunter and Hatch. Hunter finished with nine points, 12 below her average, but it hardly noticeable.
The Cougars were led by Olivia Guidry, who finished with 10 points.
“I realized they were in a box-and-two on Diamond and Ivy and I knew I had to step up,” Lagarde said. “I had a feel for where to go and on how to get the ball to our post players, Makya and Raegan. She (Spears) played so good tonight — she was phenomenal.”
Spears was a force underneath with nine blocked shots and eight rebounds for the Patriots.
"Blocking shots it what I do," Spears added. "When there is a miss-match on offense I try to take advantage of it."
Lagarde scored six of the first eight points, as Lee ran out to an 8-0 lead. STM got with four points three different times before the Patriots took a 15-8 first-quarter lead.
Lee quickly stretched its lead to nine points in the second quarter. A putback by Guidry got the Cougars within seven, at 19-12 with 5:27 remaining. The Patriots scored the final nine points and led 28-12 at halftime.
St. Thomas More outscored Lee 20-16 in the third quarter. But the Cougars got no closer than 12. Hunter opened the final period with a 3-pointer. Lagarde followed with two baskets and a free throw. In less than a minute, Lee led by 20 points at 52-32.
“Our goal was to have it to 10 or 12 in the fourth quarter,” STM’s Strojny said. “They have so much speed and at some point we had to push the pace a little and we gave up some points. Offensively, they (Lee) are the best team I have seen in a long time.”