Freshman Santavia Grant scored 18 points, while senior China Henderson added 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists and four steals to help Kell to a 61-53 victory in a battle of one-loss teams in a semifinal of the Campbell Holiday Classic at Wills Gymnasium.
Senior Naomi Stuger contributed five points, 10 rebounds — nine offensive — five assists and six steals for the Lady Longhorns (8-1), who have won six straight.
Kell advanced to tonight’s championship game and will face Westlake for the title.
“We wanted a great effort from our guards to challenge their guards, and basically get the centers to nullify each other, and that’s what we got,” Kell coach Craig Hines said. “To beat last year’s Class AAAAA state runner-up is huge for us.
“Santavia played big, and she’s only a freshman. To see her blossom so quickly against such a good team is tremendous, and Naomi was unbelievable on the offensive boards. China was very solid for us and Caliya got it done inside. I feel like this win shows we’re improving and heading in the right direction.”
Neither squad could really pull away from the other over the first three quarters. Kell led 20-17 entering the second, 28-25 at halftime and 41-39 at the end of the third.
But things changed quickly in the beginning of the fourth.
Robinson scored 10 of her 20 points through the first 5 minutes of the period as Kell opened the frame on an 11-2 run to take a 52-41 lead with 5:18 left to play.
Back-to-back field goals from Engram and Kennedy Thomas pulled Hillgrove to within six with 1:40 remaining, but the Lady Longhorns were 4-of-6 from the free-throw line down the stretch to seal the victory.
Kell’s rebounding and ability to convert missed field goals into easy points off the fast-break proved to be one of the biggest differences in the game.
“We play a running style of basketball, and we like to get up and down the floor,” Hines said. “We capitalized on that, and our goal is to get every team to try and match the intensity and effort we like to bring.”
Robinson and Engram proved to be difference-makers for their teams as well.
Robinson added 15 rebounds, five assists and two steals to go along with her 20 points. Engram also totaled 20 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, 14 rebounds and two steals.
“We’ve played each other before in AAU, so there wasn’t really any pressure to match up against her (Friday),” Robinson said. “It was the same thing, and we’re used to each other. I just brought my game and she brought hers.”
Aleigha Cass contributed 15 points, seven rebounds, two assists and three steals for Hillgrove (11-2), which saw its five-game win streak come to a close. Tene Thompson poured in 10 points, Kennedy Thomas added seven and Zarriah Pierce collected four rebounds, eight assists and three steals.
The Lady Hawks will face Campbell in today’s consolation game.
“At times, we looked good and, at times, we zoned out,” Hillgrove coach Susan Milam said. “Kell did a good job getting out on the break and getting on the boards. It had a chaotic feel and we didn’t do a good job settling down. Their rebounding really made the difference though. You have to give it to Kell, they played a good game.”