Dr. Phillips girls basketball’s intensity helps punch ticket to regional finals, on course for states 3-peat

With a “32 minutes of hell” mantra that forces its opponents to play fast, Dr. Phillips’ defense is what helped it reach the regional final and will help bring home its 3rd-straight state title

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In its FHSAA Class 7A girls basketball regional semifinal matchup against Centennial High (16-11) Feb. 19 at the Larry Payne Gymnasium aka the “House of Payne,” the back-to-back state champions Dr. Phillips High brought the pain to the hardwood from the jump with a full-court press that immediately put the Eagles on the back foot. 

The next thing anyone in the gym knew, after two minutes and 18 seconds ticked off the clock, the Panthers were up 10-0 and Centennial called a timeout. Fast-forward another three minutes and three seconds, and DP was up 19-0. 

“We try to get up big early in the game, so we can get a running clock,” senior guard Trinity Turner said following the Panthers’ 73-29 win. “To do that, we try to get the ball up the court as fast as we can to get a bucket. Coach doesn’t even like us to set up on offense. Obviously, if we have to, we will, but coach likes us to keep the intensity going to get easy buckets and that running clock to get the game over.” 

By the time the opening quarter ended, the Panthers held their opposition to just two baskets with a score of 21-4.

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32 minutes of hell

Longtime Panthers coach Anthony Jones knows how to win state championships — he’s led the program to five since the 2010-11 season — and one of the reasons these recent teams have been able to achieve that is by utilizing the elite-level athleticism on the roster to cause its opponents fits. 

“We want to apply pressure and make it 32 minutes of hell out there,” Jones said. 

“It just comes back to our mentality. We know defense and rebounding win games and win championships. And I have a great coaching staff, and we try our hardest to make sure that we instill in these young ladies the mental toughness it takes to play great defense."

"We have the athletes, and so we push them in practice. We do a lot of sprints, we encourage physical play, we beat up on each other in practice," he said. "It gets very intense and chippy in practice. But when we come out here, we’re our own biggest cheerleaders and kind of take it out on our opposing teams. You can see how that philosophy creates a difference on the court, our physical play, and our speed just wear other teams down.”

That’s what happened on Monday night. 

By the end of the first half, Dr. Phillips led 45-16, and over the entire game, the Panthers recorded 13 steals. 

Despite the big lead, the intensity didn’t drop for the Panthers. 

Quite the opposite, actually, because for Jones, these early-round playoff games are more than just a box his team needs to check on its way to competing for another state championship. These matchups are an opportunity to help prepare each player on the roster for the postseason push. 

“In games like tonight, the No. 1 thing is staying healthy,” Jones said. “Because at the intensity we play at, we know we need everybody from our starters to our bench. … We need all of them. After that, we want to make sure that we can give everyone on the team experience and playing time because you never know whose number is going to be called in the playoffs due to foul trouble, injuries and so forth.”

Stars shined

Although Jones gave his reserves plenty of run in this game, because it went DP’s way early and often, it didn’t mean the Panthers’ stars took the night off. 

Turner led the team with 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists, five steals and two blocks, while junior guard Anilys Rolon added 17 points, three boards and two assists. Sophomore Kendall Perry scored 13, grabbed four rebounds, dished out five assists and had two steals.

Sophomore forward Leah Bullard also had a solid night with seven points and seven rebounds, while junior Sariah Johnson was the fourth Lady Panther to finish in double-digits with 10 points and five boards. 

Dr. Phillips will host District 5 rival Oak Ridge High (14-12) in the regional finals at 7 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Larry Payne Gymnasium on its campus. The two faced off earlier this February in the district tournament — the Panthers won, 92-63. 

Sam Albuquerque is the Sports Editor for the Orange Observer. Please contact him with story ideas, results and statistics.

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Sam Albuquerque

A native of João Pessoa, Brazil, Sam Albuquerque moved in 1997 to Central Florida as a kid. After earning a communications degree in 2016 from the University of Central Florida, he started his career covering sports as a producer for a local radio station, ESPN 580 Orlando. He went on to earn a master’s degree in editorial journalism from Northwestern University, before moving to South Carolina to cover local sports for the USA Today Network’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his lovely wife, Sarah, newborn son, Noah, and dog named Skulí.

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