WAXHAW – Cuthbertson coach Joel Allen doesn’t love for his team to get out in transition and run, but if the Cavs need to, they most certainly can.
The Cavs showed that ability by scoring 42 points in the first half of their 69-60 win over Hickory on Feb. 29 in the third round of the NCHSAA 3A playoffs. It was the fifth-most points they’ve scored this season, but it was fine with Allen as long as the Cavs were moving on.
“We’re not going to run teams out of the gym, but we can get up and down the floor pretty good, too,” Allen said. “We usually like to be a little more in control most times.”
Freshman Reagan Iovino hit three 3-pointers and scored 12 of the Cavs first 18 points, but Hickory got the lead back early in the second half.
After a mid-range jumper by Maddie Dillinger and another two 3-pointers from Iovino, the Cavs had built a 32-25 lead they would not give back.
Iovino finished with 25 points, making 6-of-9 3-pointers and going 7-of-7 from the free throw line.
Dillinger scored 19 points to go with nine rebounds and four assists, and the two worked in tandem all game.
Dillinger said Hickory was sitting back in a 1-3-1 zone to open the game, trying to clog the paint where Dillinger and the Cavs can dominate.
But with the defense packed in, Iovino got going from outside, forcing Hickory to pay more attention to her, which eventually opened up the inside and mid-range for Dillinger, who scored eight of Cuthbertson’s first 10 second half points.
“When (Iovino) is hitting like that, it helps so much because that makes them focus a lot on her and on 3s and that allows us to get the ball in the paint, so it’s a win-win for us,” Dillinger said. “I practiced only mid-range shots at halftime because I knew it was going to be open and it was.”
Dillinger (13.8 points per game) and Iovino (10.0) are the only two Cavs who are averaging double figures this season, but they’ve gotten help from everyone.
That rolls into their only perceived weakness of not having a true point guard. Sophomore Ruby Williams has acted in that role, but Dillinger, Iovino, Lauryn Hardiman and Lillian Anderson have all helped getting the ball up the court.
“We’re putting a lot of trust in each other because we don’t really have a set ball handler,” Dillinger said. “We’ve never had a set point guard. If Ruby is taken out, then who’s next? If Laryn’s taken out, then who’s next? Lillian had to take it up some today, so we all help with it.”
In the first half against Hickory, the Cavs struggled with ball-handling and turnovers, leading to the scoring outburst.
“It wasn’t the press, but we’d get a defensive rebound and turn it over trying to get it to a guard,” Allen said “It was the loose ball, transition-type turnovers that were killing us. Thank God we shot the ball as well as we did.”
The Cavs shot 45% from the field in the win and will need another good shooting performance March 3, after The Weekly Waxhaw’s press deadline, when they travel to Southeast Guilford to face the team that beat them in last year’s state championship.
The Falcons are 28-1 and led by Winston-Salem State commit Kennedi Simmons and sophomore Raven Preston. Simmons had 27 points in the championship game, making 7-of-10 shots.
During the three playoff games, Southeast Guilford has won each game by at least 34 points, including beating Central Cabarrus 69-26 in the third round.
In last season’s 55-49 Southeast Guilford win, Cuthbertson held the lead through much of the game, but a 20-10 run in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference.
This time, the Cavs will have a better understanding of how they’ll be played.
“If we don’t turn the ball over, we’ll be OK,” Allen said. “They are more athletic than (Hickory), but they don’t have as much size. They’re quicker, and it will be the same type of game with them trying to speed us up while we’re trying to slow it down a little more.”
Dillinger agreed, saying if the Cavs play their game, there is no reason they should go on the road and take care of Southeast Guilford.
“We need to keep our defense up,” she said. “That’s the one thing we’re going to rely on heavily because that’s the best part of our game. That and getting the ball around to everyone and not just rely on Reagan to shoot 3s. As long as we take care of the ball and keep turnovers at a minimum, we’re good.”