Girls basketball: Fast start not enough for Wayne against top-ranked MND

Wayne's Bree Hall tries to score in the first half against Mount Notre Dame in Saturday's Division I regional final at Princeton High School. Wayne lost 49-33 and Hall scored 16 points. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
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Wayne's Bree Hall tries to score in the first half against Mount Notre Dame in Saturday's Division I regional final at Princeton High School. Wayne lost 49-33 and Hall scored 16 points. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

Cougars win 70th straight game, reach Division I state semifinals

CINCINNATI – Wayne started fast Saturday in its quest to reach the girls Division I state tournament. Alyssa Hargrove-Hall made three 3-pointers in the first three minutes for a seven-point lead.

But for unbeaten and top-ranked Mount Notre Dame, steady has won the race every time since the middle of the 2019 season. The Cougars have some of the best talent in Ohio, but as much as anything  their size and physical style put Wayne in play-from-behind mode in the second half.

And the Cougars know how to play with a lead. They successfully did so for the 70th straight time to defeat Wayne 49-33 at Princeton High School to advance to state for the third straight season.

“They turned it up and physically they showed that they’ve won a lot of games in a row and they’ve done that for a reason,” Wayne coach Travis Trice said.

MND (26-0) will play the winner of Toledo Notre Dame and Olmsted Falls at 8 p.m. Friday at UD Arena in the state semifinals. The Cougars won the state title in 2019 and were favored to repeat last year when the state tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I felt like we did a good job of getting to the rim and they were letting them play with the hits across the arm a bit,” Trice said. “If you’re not going to get those calls then you’re going to have a hard time.”

MND was in its staple 2-3 zone to start the game, but Wayne’s 13-8 lead after the first quarter changed the Cougars’ strategy to man-to-man. Wayne managed only a free throw in the second quarter and trailed 20-14 at halftime.

“They were in a zone and we were prepared for that,” Trice said. “And I felt like we were prepared for everything to do with man. If you’re not finishing them and you’re not getting those body calls, that makes a huge difference.”

MND played more zone in the second half, but Wayne (18-4) still struggled and trailed 33-24 after three quarters. Wayne star Bree Hall came alive with 14 of her 16 points in the second half, but she didn’t make her first basket until a 3-pointer with 2:30 left in the third.

“She didn’t shoot the ball well, she didn’t finish it like she normally does,” Trice said. “If your best player has an off night, other people have to be able to step it up a little bit. We just didn’t get that.”

Wayne trailed 35-26 early in the fourth and had a glimmer of hope, but MND’s eight offensive rebounds in the second half and aggressiveness kept the Warriors from making a serious threat.

MND star KK Bransford scored 20 points and made 12 of 17 free throws. Her and her team’s tenacity was never more apparent than when she had successive shots blocked under the basket by Hall and Jacquel Bronaugh. But she didn’t give up, stole an outlet pass after the second block, scored and added a free throw for a 39-26 lead with 4:33 left.

Five Wayne senior starters played their final game: Hall, Hargrove-Hall, Bronaugh, Lovie Malone and Saharra Murphy.

“It’s a special group, and I don’t think we’ve been in any better place mentally than what we were over these last couple weeks,” Trice said. “Mentally they were a lot tougher than they’ve been. That group is going to go down as one of the most special teams in Wayne girls history.”