ESPN HoopGurlz: Tennessee Flight survive, thrive
HAMPTON, Va. -- With a 20-point first-half deficit looming over Tennessee Flight coach Tom Insell, his voice so far gone that his usual barbs came in the form of high-pitched cracks, it's hard to believe the coach and his team had much hope of coming back against the Metros in the semifinals of the Boo Williams Nike Invitational gold bracket. But somehow Insell held on to hope.
"You're never out of a game in travel ball," Insell said after his team's 76-64 victory over the Philly Belles-Maryland in the Boo Williams Nike Invitational gold bracket championship game. "Ninety percent of teams give up if they get down 20, but the game is so fast-paced you just need to get a couple of rebounds or stops and get yourself going."
The Flight not only rallied to beat the Metros in the semifinals, but the team, which had its first practice on Wednesday before the tournament began on Friday afternoon, came out on fire against a Belles team that had the athletes to match up with the Flight players. And while the team was led in scoring by the 18 points from Kaela Davis, the No. 2 ranked junior in the ESPN HoopGurlz Super 60, the unsung hero theme was playing loudly.
With the Belles' defense keenly aware that beating the Flight meant stopping not only second-ranked Davis but also the scoring of the No. 5 prospect in the 2013 class, Rebecca Greenwell, the opportunity was there for someone else to step up. Enter Olivia Jones, a 5-foot-7 forward. Giving up several inches in almost every game in the frontcourt, Jones used her quickness and toughness to put up 16 first-half points and put the Flight firmly in the driver's seat.
"I understand that there are other people that are better than me," said Jones, who has been given the nickname 'Honey Badger' from her team. "So I just try to play hard on defense, get rebounds and whatever is needed to win."
In the semifinal comeback against the Metros, it was back-to-back buckets from sophomore post Janie White that sparked a run. In the quarterfinal matchup with All Iowa Attack, the Flight blew a 20-point lead of its own, allowing the Attack to take a one-point lead with 30 seconds to play before junior forward Nina Davis, who scored 17 points in the finale, stepped up and made key plays.
"This is the most unsure team I've brought here," said Insell, whose team played five games in less than 48 hours. "I was scared. I didn't know what to expect."
The Flight have been to the Boo Williams spring event the last 25 years, making the finals eight times, but this is the first trophy the Murfreesboro, Tenn.,-based program will take home.
Winning Boo was a team goal coming into the event, leaving just the USJN Nationals, a major July viewing period event in the Washington D.C., area left to conquer.
But even with the early outburst from Jones, who finished tied with Kaela Davis for a team-high 18 points, the Belles pushed their way back to within single digits. Lindsay Allen, a 5-6 junior point guard, finished with a game-high 19 points for the Belles, and junior guard Tyshell King matched Jones' 16 first-half and 18 total points.
The Flight focused their defense on arguably the most potent of the Belles' scorers, Jannah Tucker, the No. 9 prospect in the 2013 class, holding her scoreless in the first half and allowing her just five points for the game.
"We played more contain man-to-man and gave a little more help," said Insell, who took over coaching the Flight Silver team in 2009. "We didn't want Tucker to get off."
And so the spring season is off to the races, and the freshly painted target on the back of the Flight uniforms will remain until July 31, when the summer NCAA-certified evaluation period ends.
Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.