BIRMINGHAM — The Collinsville girls basketball team set the tone early, firing off five straight 3-pointers for its first 15 points.
“That’s how we planned it,” Panthers coach Jon Tidmore joked after his team constructed a brilliant all-around performance in a 52-39 win against G.W. Long in the semifinal round of the AHSAA Class 2A state playoffs.
Brittany Rivera had a perfect 5 for 5 shooting effort, scoring 12 points with seven rebounds and leading a balanced offensive outing at Legacy Arena. Hadley Hamilton scored 10 points with nine rebounds, Tyla Tatum added 10 points with seven rebounds and Olivia Akins finished with nine points.
The Panthers (28-3) advanced to their first state final in program history in the process. They play defending 2A state champion Cold Springs for the state title at 9 a.m. Friday.
Maggie McKinney made a pair of 3-point baskets in the first quarter, with Rivera, Hamilton and Akins adding a 3-pointer apiece during the opening stretch that allowed Collinsville to take a 17-9 lead heading into the second period.
“I don’t think we knew it was going to be like that,” Tidmore said of the 3-point spurt. “I think we did have confidence and that was awesome. It was important to start like that and I’m glad they had the confidence to do it.”
The Panthers shot 71 percent (5 of 7) from 3-point range during the run and 50 percent (6 of 12) from the field.
“During that run, we had several turnovers,” Long coach Jody Hughes said. “We also hit a couple of key shots from the outside. After that, we had a couple of times on defense where we got out of position. They had a couple of easy buckets that put them on top and we could not get them back.”
The Panthers’ defensive pressure led to Rebel turnovers and smart passes led to high-percentage shot opportunities to close the half. Hamilton hit a 3-pointer to push Collinsville into a 26-16 advantage with 4 minutes left in the half, with Hamilton assisting Rivera with a fast-break layup and Hamilton dishing to Rivera for an open 3 to make it 33-18 at the half.
Tatum drove into the paint for a layup and Rivera and Akins both added layups in the Panthers’ 3-0 run at the start of the second half to extend the lead to 39-18. Makenna Long made a layup to end the scoring drought for Long (26-6) with 3:18 remaining in the third.
Collinsville’s defense was on full display in the third quarter, limiting the Rebels to two points in the period.
“I think you can see the effort and the attention to detail that they put into it,” Tidmore said of the defensive play. “They were really dialed in.”
Collinsville out-rebounded Long 34-21 and scored 23 points off turnovers.
Makenna Long scored a game-high 17 points for the Rebels, and Mary Beth Long added eight points with six rebounds.
Tidmore said, at 6-foot-1, Mary Beth Long was a defensive concern for his team.
“She’s far bigger than anybody we have and I think you could see that (our girls) bought into the fact that we had to guard (Long) with more than one player and still get back out to cover shooters,” he said.
Said Hughes: “The double-team and triple-team on Mary Beth was tough for us. We struggled to get things going.”