4-A QUARTERS: No. 5 Hillside girls take on No. 1 Millbrook
Former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson said opponents had to prepare for “40 minutes of hell” when they played the Razorbacks because of constant full-court pressure.
Girls’ basketball teams in the state of North Carolina have faced something similar when playing Ovester Grays’ Hillside Hornets. Maybe it should be called “32 minutes of hell.”
“No doubt,” Grays said. “It’s no secret. This is my 17th state playoff and fifth or sixth regional, and everybody knows we’re going to try to play a lot of intense defense. We’re going to mix it up a whole lot for 32 minutes.”
The next opponent to face No. 5-seeded Hillside’s pressure is top-seeded Millbrook (24-3) when the two teams battle in the Eastern Regional semifinals tonight at 7 p.m. at Crown Coliseum here.
“Our hope and gameplan is over the course of 32 minutes, teams make enough mistakes that we can take advantage of those,” Grays said. “We have to take advantage of them. We hope, through defense, we cause other teams to make mistakes than we do.”
The pressure from Hillside (23-5) comes in all forms, at all spots on the floor.
“We’re going to be pressuring, trapping all over the place,” Grays said. “We have different formations and run about 12 different defenses. They get disguised a lot, but the whole idea is to put pressure on the other team to make plays and play faster.”
The aggressive style fits Grays’ personality, and he said he learned the pressure defenses from Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith and Sylvia Hatchell — all championship-winning coaches.
“That does suit my personality,” Grays said. “But I think it helps develop more players. When you play this way, it encourages more players to develop diversity in their game — and I think it’s more fun.”
And in many ways, the pressure defense perpetuates itself over time. As players develop, so does Hillside’s defense. And as Hillside’s defense gets better, so, too, does Hillside.
“That’s our long-term philosophy, developing a lot of players at one time,” Grays said. “We’ve had a lot of great individual players, but our philosophy is to develop many players. That’s really the reason we’ve been consistent over the years. Every year, we lose good players, but we’ve got good players that we’ve been developing.
“That’s what we’re doing right now. We’ve got nine, 10 kids who can play, and in most games — I’m not saying it will be this week — that’s certainly a strength for us.”
Grays starts two freshman, including point guard Kelbi Lewis, but he has plenty of experience on his roster, with six seniors including major contributors Zuri White, Tykyrah Williams and Khara Herring as well as juniors Justine Lyon and Mya Webb.
“We’re a young team, too,” Grays said. “I start two freshman, and one at point guard at that. But I do have good depth, four or five seniors who play a lot.”
In the game that got Hillside here, wing star Lyon scored a career-best 42 points while White chipped in 25 points and 26 rebounds in the post. And in what Hillside has to hope is a sign of good things to come, that third-round win came over Broughton 90-64. Broughton tied Raleigh rival Millbrook for first place in the Cap Eight 4-A Conference, but lost a coin-flip and ended up the No. 12 overall seed to Millbrook’s No. 1. Seeding is based on conference finish, so all first-place teams in the East were seeded higher than Broughton.
In the end, though, Hillside will rely on its pressure defense.
“We have to play our kind of defense,” Grays said. “We have to dance with the one that brought us. Our emphasis is being a great defensive team. We need nine, 10 kids to do that really well. We don’t depend on one kid. We need our whole team to come and play the level of defense we like playing. That leads to a lot of success for us.”
NOTES — The winner of tonight’s game advances to meet the winner of the Crown Coliseum nightcap between No. 19 Riverside — Hillside’s PAC-6 rival — and No. 2 Southeast Raleigh. That East Region championship game will be at the Crown Coliseum at 4 p.m. Saturday. The East Regional champion advances to the state 4-A championship game at 5 p.m. Saturday, March 15 at Reynolds Coliseum on the N.C. State University campus in Raleigh.