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“It feels like we can go far in the tournament. Now other teams know that we’re really not anything to play with,” said senior wing Dominique Camp, who led the Firebirds with a career-high 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting and added five assists and three steals. “Each and every play, we were just giving it our all. We were doing it for our team.”
Chance Gray (16), Nevaeh Dean (14) and Bryana Henderson (12) also hit double figures offensively for West, which pushed its record to 18-2 overall and 13-1 in the GMC. The Firebirds top the conference standings and have a one-game lead over Princeton.
“We knew Mason was a good team … we just played how we play,” said Gray, a freshman guard. “We knew we were coming out hard and there was nothing they could do about it. I felt like I needed to redeem myself because the last time I played them, it wasn’t my game.”
She only had six points in the first meeting, a 57-48 West triumph on Jan. 9. These teams have become known for their wars at the top of the GMC, and another one was expected Saturday.
It didn’t happen. A few statistics to ponder:
• The Firebirds shot 64 percent from the floor, 66.7 percent (8-of-12) from 3-point range and 90 percent (9-of-10) from the foul line.
• The Firebirds earned a crushing 37-14 advantage on the boards, paced by Dean’s 11 rebounds.
• The Firebirds led 21-5, 46-21 and 62-33 at the quarter stops.
“We needed a game like this,” said West coach Andy Fishman, whose squad has won five straight since splitting at the Classic in the Country Challenge. “We needed to be playing Mason here at this time. I think you get a little bit of an unconscious letdown when you get back from Berlin because you lose some of the hype and excitement of playing top of the state and country competition.
“Not that we’ve been playing poorly by any stretch of the imagination since we got back, but you’re playing a different level of team. I mean, Mason-Lakota West, let’s be real about what it’s been like over the past several years. It’s been incredible.
“We wish we could play in this kind of environment all the time. I’m happy with the way we came out and executed the game plan. Our defensive intensity was outstanding, and along with our defensive rebounding, I think it set the tone. And obviously it helps when you hit shots.”
Florida State University-bound Sammie Puisis topped the Comets (13-5, 10-3) with 11 points. Mason shot 33.3 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from the charity stripe.
“I’m not faulting our kids’ efforts. They just got ran over. We got buzz-sawed,” Comets coach Rob Matula said. “(The Firebirds) were as good as they could be. When you get whipped up that bad, you just take it and lick your wounds and come back to play another game.”
Gray drilled four 3-pointers, all in the first half, and finished with six assists and four rebounds. She is the Firebirds’ leading scorer this season (14.7) and isn’t shy about bombing from very long range.
“That’s just my job,” Gray said with a smile. “I know I need to shoot the ball when I’m open, so I just let it go and it goes in.
“Coming into the season, I wasn’t expecting the role I have to be the leading scorer on my team, but I knew I was going to have to take a role that was different. Coming in as a freshman, I know I still have a lot ahead of me. It’s been a fun season, it’s been a good season. I’m just playing my game and it’s going well.”
Kailyn Dudukovich tallied all nine of her points in the first half for West and also turned in a strong defensive performance while guarding Puisis.
Fishman conceded that all things considered, it was the Firebirds’ best performance of the season. West is eyeing its fifth consecutive GMC title.
“It’s always going to be really tough with Mason,” Fishman said. “We outplayed them today, but we can’t have fool’s gold and think it’s going to be like that every single time we play them. The truth is somewhere in the middle. You’re never as good as you look when you win and you’re never as bad as you look when you lose.
“We did have some unforced errors with passing the basketball and poor spacing situations, and there were a couple of defensive things that we still need to work on. We also committed some reaching fouls when I thought our defense was in a good position to prevent an easy look anyway.
“You always have to keep getting better. But we really like our club, we really like our girls, and we really like what we’re capable of doing. We’re very excited for the tournament to start, but we also have to focus on the next few games and closing out the league schedule. Winning the GMC is a big deal, and we can’t afford any slipups.”
The Comets were coming off a 47-29 win over Sycamore on Friday night. Matula said the quick turnaround clearly didn’t help his team against West.
“I’m not making an excuse, but I’m a realist,” he said. “You play a game the previous night and I don’t care who you play the next day, it’s going to be tough.
“We were supposed to play Sycamore earlier, but they wanted to do a doubleheader with the boys to get more people there because we were trying to raise money for cancer research. We raised $8,000, so in the overall scheme of things, that’s more important to me than anything else. I’d do it again if somebody asked me to do it.”
Mason will host Springboro on Monday. West will be at home against Hamilton on Wednesday.
Lakota West 21-25-16-19—81
LAKOTA WEST (18-2, 13-1 GMC): Bryana Henderson 4 2 12; Chance Gray 5 2 16; Dominique Camp 8 1 17; Kailyn Dudukovich 4 1 9; Nevaeh Dean 6 2 14; Jaydis Gales 2 0 5; Sydney Benning 2 1 6; Jessica Clark 1 0 2. Totals: 32-9-81
MASON (13-5, 10-3 GMC): Sade Tucker 4 0 8; Alanna Carter 4 0 8; Megan Wagner 1 2 5; Sammie Puisis 3 3 11; Marilyn Popplewell 2 0 4; Riley Cosimi 1 0 3; Beth Moser 1 0 2. Totals: 16-5-41
3-pointers: L 8 (Gray 4, Henderson 2, Gales, Benning), M 4 (Puisis 2, Cosimi, Wagner)