Originally published January 22, 2012 at 12:42a.m., updated January 22, 2012 at 12:42a.m.
TIFTON — You want to be perfect?
Simple — just put a jersey on DyTiesha Dunson and let her lead the way.
There’s a lot more to Westover’s incredible perfect season, but Saturday night at ABAC, Dunson proved once again why she is arguably the best girls basketball player in Southwest Georgia — and maybe beyond.
In a game that came with some hype and worries, Herald No. 1 Westover (19-0) erased all that and more with a 65-55 win against Class AAAAA Tift County on a night when Dunson didn’t just step up — she soared.
By the time it was over, Dunson, a two-time Herald Super 6er, had dropped in 35 points, grabbed six rebounds and led Westover in every possible way against a team many thought had a chance to spoil the Lady Patriots’ perfect run.
Dunson made sure that didn’t happen, and Westover, which has been The Herald’s No. 1 team all year, is still perfect with six regular-season games left to play.
“It’s about time for us to retire her jersey,’’ said Westover assistant coach Vanite Moore after the game.
She wasn’t kidding.
“When she gets going, it’s on,’’ said Westover head coach Lewis Smith, who has seen Dunson drop 30 several times in her career. “I’ve seen her do that a lot of times. She just takes over.’’
Dunson, who was nominated as a McDonald All-American earlier this week, has been the leader for Westover since she was a sophomore. She has had 30-point nights before, but this was a career-high.
“She’s an incredible player,’’ Tift County coach Julie Conner said. “Coach Smith does a great job. We love playing Westover. It’s such a good program. I was real proud of my kids. We were playing without one of our main scorers (who is out) and we’re real young. I was proud of them.’’
Tift County (13-7) was led by Laker Johnson and Dee Dee Deshley, who scored 14 each and looked ready to avenge an earlier 54-51 loss to Westover.
But Dunson simply took over a tight game, put it in Westover’s hands and held it tightly for the rest of the night.
She just couldn’t miss in the third quarter, outscoring Tift County by herself, hitting 5-of-5 shots from the field, including back-to-back treys that all but broke Tift’s back. Dunson also grabbed three rebounds in the third, handed out an assist and made a couple of steals. She finished the quarter with 15 points. Tift, which led 23-20 at halftime, scored 13 points.
Dunson and the Lady Patriots took a 44-36 lead into the fourth, and Dunson added 10 more points as Westover built the lead to 11 and kept it there for most of the final period.
“We couldn’t have played a worst first half,’’ Dunson said. “They were giving us the 3 all night, playing back in a zone and we just weren’t making them, so at halftime I was working on my 3-point shot. Then I hit a couple and it got us going. I was feeling it. It felt good, because once I got going my teammates got going. We feed off each other. I know when I get hot, my team gets hot.’’
“Once she started making baskets the other girls got involved,’’ he said.
Westover took over. It was that simple, and it looked that easy in front of a large Tift County crowd at ABAC home against a much bigger Tift County team that held a 11-9 lead at the end of the first quarter and led by three at halftime. But Dunson scored Westover’s first eight points of the second half hitting a drive and two 3s to lift the Lady Patriots to a 28-25 lead.
“We’re a second-half team,’’ Dunson said. “We’ve been playing real good (lately), but it gets tougher. Every team wants to beat us and end our perfect season.’’
Dunson likes to talk about going unbeaten and has been mentioning it after almost every game for the past two weeks. No girls team from Westover has ever had a perfect season.
“It’s special,‘’ Dunson said of possibly being unbeaten. “But what we want is to win a state championship. I want a ring.’’
She played like it Saturday.
“It doesn’t surprise us for her to score 35,’’ said Herald Super 6er Ieshia Young, who scored nine points. “We‘re used to her having games like this. She scores 25 all the time. When she was making those shots (in the third quarter) we just wanted to get her the ball. We want her to get 40.’’
Late in the game, Tift was forced to foul Westover, and Conner told her team not to foul Dunson.
It didn’t work.
“I told them that she is such a great player she made sure she got to the ball and got fouled,’’ Conner said. Dunson made 10-of-10 free throws in the fourth quarter.
It was her night, and it has been Westover’s year — and those two go hand-in-hand.
TIFT COUNTY BOYS 65, WESTOVER 62: In one of the most bizarre endings of this — or any other — season, Westover lost a tough game to Class AAAA Tift County, which took advantage of a weird play with 1:10 left in the game when Westover sent six players on the court after a time out.
The bizarre part came when Westover coach Dallis Smith shouted to the officials that there were six players on the court, only to be shocked when he found out it was his team with the sixth player.
“Dequan Green was supposed to come off, but he went back on the court,’’ Smith said. “I heard one of my assistants shouting, ‘Six!’ I thought they had the six players.’’
Tift County, which was leading 61-60 at the time, was just as confused.
“I was nervous,’’ Tift County coach Eric Holland said. “I didn‘t know. I thought I had six, and then I looked and they had six. I appreciated that (help from Smith yelling at the officials).’’
Smith took it in stride.
“We were down by one and needed on defensive stop,’’ Smith said. “That kind of changed the game, changed the momentum.’’
Austin Pickett hit just one of the two technical free throws to give Tift a 62-60 lead, but the Blue Devils took the ball and were fouled again with 36 seconds left, and Ladarius Stewart made one of two free throws to make it a three-point game.
Westover had a last chance but T.J. Cromer missed a 3-pointer, and Tift scored on a fast break to go up 65-62. Kerry Byrd scored for Westover with 5.3 seconds left to make it a 65-62 game.
It appeared Tift County would blow Herald No. 4 Westover (11-6) off the court early when the Bule Devils — led by three first-quarter dunks from Donell Tuff — raced to a 17-6 lead, but Westover stormed back with a 13-1 run to open the second quarter, and by the time the two teams headed to the fourth quarter, Westover led, 47-46.
“I knew we wouldn’t blow them out,’’ Holland said. “Coach Smith does a great job and that’s one of the best programs in the south. I knew they would come back.‘’
So did Smith.
“We weathered the storm,‘’ he said. “We took their best punch and came back. And we had the looks we wanted. T.J. had a good look on that last 3. It just didn‘t go in.’’
Tuff led Tift County (15-5) with 23 points, and Ali Vaughn (13) and Pickett (11) followed. Brandon Hudson led Westover with 17 points and Cromer scored 11.