History is on the doorstep for Tellico Plains.
The Lady Bears (24-1) can earn a spot in the TSSAA State Tournament for only the second time in program history if things go their way Saturday night in Greeneville.
However, North Greene will be seeking their second straight trip to the state tournament, and has the chance to earn that right on their home court.
Tellico Plains Coach Gary Tucker, who led the 1984 Lady Bears squad to a state semifinal appearance, said his approach ahead of his second sectional round game in four years has been from within.
“I just focus on believing in themselves,” Tucker said. “We are blessed to be where we are and we have done a good job. It has been a tough season, but a lot of good has happened to us because of our girls' resilience. We deserve to be here, so why not us. We are excited.”
In the Region 2-A Championship, Tellico Plains lost their first game of the season to Oneida. According to Tucker, there was a bit of a mental layover moving forward off of Wednesday’s result.
“Yesterday they were tired and a little bit withdrawn, but today we were back to our old selves. There was more energy at practice, and it was much better today,” Tucker said. “We worked on our offense execution a little bit more today.”
The Lady Huskies (24-7) are making their third straight appearance in the substate round, and hopeful to earn the school's sixth trip the the girls basketball state tournament.
Before last year's quarterfinal appearance, North Greene reached the state tournament in 1999, 2010, 2011 and 2014. The 2014 team finished as runners-up behind Union City.
Off of last year’s final eight team, much like Tellico Plains, North Greene returns their entire rotation — led by Brooklyn Anderson, a junior who averaged a double-double at the end of the regular season.
Anderson was named to the All-State team as a sophomore.
“I think they are going to play a four out, one in offense. They have a tall post, and the other four girls play perimeter — they like to dribble-drive and check and shoot,” Tucker said.
The Lady Huskies are averaging 61.1 points per game, and are 14-1 when eclipsing that mark. Tellico Plains’ defense, which picked itself up in the second half of Wednesday’s region championship, has held their opponents to an average 33 points per game — a high of 59 set by Oneida. The Lady Bears have only allowed 50+ points twice on the season.
North Greene has not scored at 33 or below in the entire season, but has hit the high 30s on three occasions.
“They are good shooters, that is obvious. That is one of the first things coaches told me — that they catch and shoot very well. They are well disciplined and a mature team,” Tucker said.
The Lady Huskies’ defense is averaging an allowed 42.4 points per game. The lowest score Tellico Plains has been held to this season is 48, by Oakdale in November.
While the Lady Bears have breezed through their district, averaging wins by 40 plus, they have hit 51 and 49 in their previous two games.
“I think athletically we will match up with them, and in size we will match up pretty good. The big girl will have an advantage, but hopefully we can neutralize her with help-side and boxing out,” Tucker said.
North Greene has not lost since Feb. 8, falling to Class AAA’s Jefferson County. The Lady Huskies are led by James Buchanan, who has been with the program since the 2001-02 season.
The Lady Bears showed how they can handle difficult moments on Wednesday. Down by 20, Tellico Plains regrouped and brought the region championship within two possessions.
Joell Stinnett, the inside presence for Tellico Plains, did much of the scoring for the Lady Bears while Emma Moore brought defensive effort off the bench that slowed Oneida’s ability to get good shots off.
Defense was lacking in the first half and is what allowed the Lady Indians to get in front.
If the Lady Bears have another slow start, Moore, a sophomore, could play a crucial role in how the night ends.
Kori Hamilton will need to be involved early. Hamilton leads the Lady Bears with 15 ppg and over 340 on the season. The junior is tasked with being the offensive catalyst in charge of getting the squad in good scoring positions.
Jaden Hollinghead and Chloe Ratledge will play a big role for the defensive side. The duo will have the task of boxing out and keeping the ball away from Anderson. Anderson averages 11 rebounds a game.
Maggie Hooper started the postseason averaging 14 ppg in the District 4-A Tournament, but has slowed to 4.6 ppg since region play began. Hooper will be important in moving the ball on the perimeter.
The Lady Bears have more experience than they did a year ago. The whole squad returned from the previous season. Hollinghead, the lone senior in the starting five, works with four juniors.
Tellico Plains has two seniors on the roster. Mattie Burnett rounds out the senior class.
Depth can be an issue for Tellico Plains. The Lady Bears do not sub often. They often only played six players deep. Outside of the starting five plus Moore, Hannah Dalton is the only other player to appear since the Region 2-A Semifinals.