After struggling through much of the first half of the season, the Houston High School girls basketball team caught fire in 2021.
The Lady Tigers won two more games last week on their home floor, beating Bradleyville 68-50 on Tuesday and dispatching Dora 69-54 on Thursday, to raise their season record to 9-5 and hike their win streak to 6.
The victories also kept the squad’s record clean in Hiett Gymnasium at 7-0 and in 2021 at 6-0. The last time they lost was Dec. 28, 2020, when Gainesville defeated them during a holiday tournament at Mountain Grove.
“We’re playing pretty good,” said head coach Brent Kell. “We’re still not reaching our potential, but we’re getting closer.”
The win over Dora avenged a loss in early December at a tournament in Fordland.
The visiting Lady Falcons got off to a fast start and led 11-3 after a bucket by sophomore guard Chesney Luna with 4:34 left in the first quarter. But Houston responded with a 10-0 run and went ahead 13-11 when freshman guard Angie Smith sank a pair of free throws with 1:58 to go in the period.
Dora regrouped and held a 19-15 advantage at the end of the first quarter, and built a 22-15 lead early in the second period on a basket and a free throw by junior guard Cassidy Hambleton. But the Lady Tigers answered with a 13-4 run and went ahead 28-26 when Karlee Curtis fed Olivia Crites for a bucket from the low blocks with 3:08 left in the first half.
Houston led to 36-31 at the break, and then steadily increased the margin throughout the second half.
The Lady Tigers had four players score in double-figures in the contest. Crites continued her torrid scoring pace over the past several games and led the way with 17 points, while senior guard Jaden Stell and junior guard Hannah Dzurick each had 16 and Smith finished with 10. Dzurick heated up big-time in the second half, nailing two 3-pointers and pouring in 14 points.
Hambleton (who scored 34 points when the two teams met at Fordland) led Dora with 20 points, while Luna had 16 (including four 3-pointers) and senior forward Riley Collins added 8.
The Lady Tigers incorporated a triangle-and-2 defense on the Lady Falcons, with man-to-man coverage on Hambleton and Collins, who had combined for 51 points in the earlier matchup. The ploy resulted in the pair scoring only 28 this time.
“We ‘junked’ them with a defense they probably weren’t expecting,” Kell said. “I thought we did a great job on the special defense.”
While the Lady Tigers have had trouble at the free throw line on several occasions this season, they sank 13-of-14 foul shots in the game, all in the first half.
“Our girls know it’s been a problem,” Kell said, “and we can’t win close games if we don’t make our free throws.”
Houston shot 47-percent from the field, while Dora was held to only 32-percent.
Crites also had 9 rebounds and blocked 2 shots in the contest, while Dzurick and Smith each had 5 assists and Smith and Stell recorded 4 steals apiece.
EARLY LEAD GROWS
In the win over Bradleyville, Houston led 17-7 at the end of the first quarter and never looked back. The Lady Tigers were still up by 10 at halftime, 36-26, but outscored the visiting Lady Eagles 19-10 in the third period to take a commanding 55-36 advantage into the final 8 minutes.
Crites led Houston in scoring with 20 points and also pulled down 9 rebounds, while Stell drilled four treys and finished with 12. Dzurick sank two 3-pointers in the contest and scored 9 points, while Curtis had 8 and Smith added 7.
The Lady Tigers out-rebounded Bradleyville 33-26, while racking up 19 assists and committing only 13 turnovers. Dzurick and Smith had 6 assists apiece and Smith recorded 4 steals.
“We’re sharing the ball and executing our game plan really well right now,” Kell said. “And most of time, we’re playing pretty good defense.”
This week, Houston plays at the annual Lady Lion Invitational at Mansfield. The Lady Tigers are seeded seventh in the event’s 8-team field, and faced No. 2 Cassville in a first-round game on Tuesday.
“We’ve gone nowhere but up,” Stell said, “and I’m so excited for this tournament. I love this team. We’ve come into every game in this winning streak with our heads held high, and we don’t think we’re going to lose.
“We go into the locker room pumped and come out stronger every time.”
Last week’s wins gave the Lady Tigers a 4-0 record during a two-week home stand.
“The girls are having a lot of fun and they’re a close-knit group,” Kell said. “It feels good to be on a winning streak, but a lot of those games have been at home. Now we’ll be going to a neutral floor for a tournament and then go to some other places as the season winds down.
“We have some tough conference games coming up, but we’re taking it one game at a time and we’ll see how far we can go.”