By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
For the third straight season, the Richlands girls basketball team is playing in the state quarterfinals.
They’re 1-1 in those meetings, losing to Robert E. Lee in 2011, and beating Rustburg to advance to Richmond and the Group AA Division 3 state semifinals last March. Their season ended there with a loss to Liberty-Bealeton.
The Region IV champion Lady Blues (21-4) hope to go 2-1 in those meetings today, when they travel to the University of Virginia College at Wise to face Region III runner-up Brookville (18-6).
Tip-off will be at 11 a.m. for the first of six state quarterfinal games slated to be played today at the spacious Prior Convocation Center.
Richlands head coach Dennis Palmer isn’t worried about having a sleepy group of Lady Blues prior to the game.
“We played at 11 in the state semifinals last year, we played at Carroll County at 12:30 and we play a lot of AAU ball sometimes at 9 in the morning, 9 at night or in the afternoon,” Palmer said. “We have played all kinds of different times, but I don’t think that will affect us at all.”
Palmer, whose Lady Blues won the Southwest District regular season title and won the Region IV crown for a third straight season, is more concerned about the Bees, who finished second in the Seminole District, but have lost two in a row, including a 60-41 setback in the Region III finals to Spotswood.
“We got some film on them and they are athletic and they are good in transition, they get a lot of points off transition,” Palmer said. “They penetrate well too so we have to get back on defense and keep them from getting easy baskets in transition and keep them out of the paint and not let them penetrate.”
Richlands, which has lost just four games all season, fell to Carroll County in the SWD tournament finals, forcing the Blues — after beating Tazewell — to win at Patrick County in the Region IV finals, and they did just that.
Brittany Allen led the Lady Blues with 30 points, while Rachel Alley did everything else, providing 13 rebounds and nine blocked shots.
“That is a tough environment at Patrick County, but I thought our girls really stepped up and played well, especially on the road and they had a big crowd,” Palmer said. “Our girls stepped up and played well.”
Cassidy Richardson leads the offense at point guard, while MaKenley Davis is a threat from 3-point range. Sarah Compton was able to play big inside last year in the quarterfinals against Rustburg when Alley got in early foul trouble, and they have combined efforts at times this season.
“We have been playing them together quite a big this year,” Palmer said. “We’ve got two posts we play sometimes and sometimes we go with four guards, it depends on how we want to play.”
Just don’t expect the Lady Blues to change what has been successful.
“We play a certain style and we are not going to change our style if a team is real athletic,” Palmer said. “We are going to get in transition and we look to shoot the 3 and we will still do that, or we can slow it down a little, but we will still do what we do.”
Anitra Thomas led the Bees in their last win over Northside, scoring 27 points to help Brookville reached the regional finals. Other key cogs for the Bees are Briana Barksdale, Taneisha Graves and Letti Jeffries.
“Brookville is good and athletic and good in transition, but we are athletic too and good in transition too,” Palmer said. “We can get out and run and get in transition a little bit too.”
Richlands lost in its first opportunity at this level in 2011, falling to Robert E. Lee, a team that also played pressure defense and ran the floor from start to finish. Yet, Palmer doesn’t see muchresemblance between the Lee Ladies and the Bees.
“They have got four pretty athletic girls and they play pretty good defense and get up and down the floor, but I don’t know who to compare them to that we have played,” said Palmer, whose Lady Blues are led in scoring by Allen, who is contributing about 20 points a game. “Rustburg had two great players, and the team that first year, I am not sure Brookville is like them.
“They are a little different from what we have played, but we are pretty athletic too. I think we match up with them pretty well, but we have got to rebound the ball and play good defense.”
Richlands prepared for its game at the spacious arena at UVa-Wise by traveling to Bristol on Thursday to practice at the Bearcat Den, which is where the Lady Blues beat Rustburg last season in the state quarterfinals.
Ironically, the Blues went to UVa-Wise last year to prepare for Bristol.
“It helps with the depth perception of the goal since there is not a wall behind the goal,” Palmer said. “You have to make a little adjustment with your shot as far as perception goes.”
Palmer is confident the experience of being at this point for a third straight season will only help the Lady Blues, a program that has followed up an 0-23 mark in 2009 with seasons of 14, 14, 17 and now 21 (and counting) wins.
“They have experienced a lot and they know what it takes, how to prepare and how the game is going to be played and the environment of it all,” Palmer said. “I don’t think it will affect us at all.
“Every year is a different year, but having been there and being prepared for it is big for us.”
If Richlands wins, the Lady Blues would qualify for a return trip to the Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth in Richmond next Tuesday for the Division 3 state semifinals against either Brunswick or Western Albemarle.
—Contact Brian Woodson