GAINESVILLE -- The Flowery Branch girls basketball team may be dominating the Region 8-AAAAA standings, but coach Hazel Hall says her team still has plenty of room for improvement in the closing stages of the season.
"Defensively, we've got to get things together," Hall said after watching her team fend off Gainesville 72-56 on Friday in Gainesville.
"Scoring 72 was nice, but we allowed 18 points off unguarded 3-pointers and 15 points from free throws," Hall said. "We don't normally let people score like that."
Both teams flashed their offensive abilities throughout the first three quarters, including an 11-0 third quarter run for Gainesville that slashed the Lady Falcons' lead to 44-40.
Flowery Branch (21-1, 14-0 Region 8-AAAAA) wasn't about to let the Lady Red Elephants maintain that momentum, however, as Jacy Ramey and Marissa Ivey combined to help the Lady Falcons regain control and a 54-44 lead headed into the fourth quarter.
Gainesville kept Flowery Branch within reach early in the period, thanks to a 3-pointer and a three-point play from Sophia Jackson to trail 58-50 with 5:10 remaining, but Lady Falcons senior Tavia Sykes responded to each basket, putting up eight of her 21 points over the final eight minutes.
"When they get challenged they've always stepped up this season," Hall said of her team. "They do what they've got to do and they find ways to get things done."
On Friday that meant offense, and plenty of it, as Ramey also finished with 21 points, while Ivey added 10.
"If we ever had a night where everybody was on we might score 100," Hall chuckled. "But normally we have two or three players who lead the way. And when we don't shoot well we have to buckle down and defend."
The Lady Falcons jumped ahead 17-12 after the first quarter and increased that lead to 38-27 at the half, putting up 21 second quarter points -- an advantage that stretched to 44-29 near the start of third on Sykes' 3-pointer and Ramey's jumper.
Yet the Lady Red Elephants battled back on the strength of their perimeter game and the shooting of Tamia Rucker, as the guard drained two 3-pointers. And by the time Angel Mickle scored inside with 2:52 left in the quarter, Gainesville had pulled within 44-40.
It was as close as the Lady Red Elephants would get.
Ramey put up a three-point play and sank another jumper before Ivey drilled a 3-pointer to put the momentum back in Flowery Branch's favor.
The Lady Falcons held Gainesville to 12 points over the final eight minutes -- thanks in large part to a sweltering full-court press that forced several key turnovers and kept the Lady Red Elephants from maintaining their third quarter charge.
Rucker finished with a game-high 22 for Gainesville, while Mickle chipped in with 12.
The Lady Red Elephants will look to bounce back on Tuesday when they travel to face Loganville.
Flowery Branch will look to keep rolling on Saturday when the Lady Falcons travel to take on East Hall.