Highlanders win battle featuring top juniors

02/13/2013 12:12 AM

02/13/2013 12:18 AM

Heathwood Hall became the mecca of the woman’s college basketball world Tuesday night. Led by coaches from Top 20 programs Kentucky, Louisville, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida State, representatives from more than half the schools from the ACC and SEC were on hand to take in the battle between two of the top junior players in the country.

A’ja Wilson, the No. 1 ranked player by ESPN Hoopgurlz Super 60, and Jatarie White, ranked No. 12 on that same list, didn’t disappoint. The two played to a stalemate but thanks to 11 points by Gadson Lefft and eight from Victoria Dickerson, Heathwood Hall and Wilson came out a 41-32 winner against Providence Day from Charlotte in front a packed house.

“I thought it went very well,” Wilson said. “We understood what we had to do, and I’m pretty sure they understood what they had to do. It was a lot of fun. They can hype it up all they want but, really, it was just a game. We took care of business. I think we played very well against them.”

The college recruiters wanted to see the two 6-foot-4 players go head-to-head after the two didn’t match-up often over the summer. The two are close friends off the court and often refer to themselves as the “Ratchet Twins.“

Wilson, who plays more on the perimeter than inside despite her frame, finished with 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting with nine rebounds, five blocks, three assists and three steals. After the Highlanders dominated region competition, routinely winning by 30 or more points, Wilson welcomed the challenge of playing against someone of White’s caliber.

“I love playing against people my size because when I get to college they are going to be bigger, quicker, faster and stronger than me but they will be my same size,” Wilson said. “I love playing against Jatarie because she makes be better, and I really enjoy it.”

White did her part for the Chargers (23-4) but it wasn’t enough to offset the more balanced Heathwood Hall effort.

She finished with 19 points on 8-of-19 from the field with eight rebounds, five blocks and an assist. White is more of a post presence on the floor and gave Wilson several drop steps and moves that she isn’t used to seeing.

“Jatarie is stronger than me, and it’s very hard to guard her,” Wilson said. “I had to trust my teammates to front her, and we did that and played pretty good defense.

White nearly echoed Wilson’s description of playing against her friend.

“A’ja is a really good player, and it’s hard for me to defend her because she is more of a guard and I’m more of a post player,” White said. “Playing against her is a good indicator of how the girls on the college level will be because not everybody will be shorter than me when I get to that level. It’s a challenge and it was a welcomed challenge even though we lost.”

The reason so many coaches were in attendance is neither player has narrowed her list. The two talked openly about their recruiting but gave no indications of a leader. Tiffany Mitchell, a freshman guard from South Carolina, played with White last year at Providence Day, and she shared a lengthy conversation with the two after the game.

Both teams came out tentative but the Highlanders (18-7) took charge by outscoring the Chargers 12-4 in the second quarter to take an 18-10 lead at the half. Wilson and Lefft each had four points in the quarter and Kelly Turbeville and Dickerson each added a basket.

Providence Day was 2-of-10 from the field during the quarter with five turnovers.

Wilson, Lefft and Dickerson scored four points apiece in the third quarter as the lead reached as many as 16 points. The Chargers made a small run in the fourth quarter thanks to seven points from White and five points from Ja’Da Brayboy, a UNC Ashville commitment, to draw within seven points but they could get no closer.

With all the attention to the two highly ranked juniors, Heathwood Hall coach John O’Cain was happy to get the win going into the playoffs.

“Last year, we went 10 days without playing,” he said. “We didn’t have a good final type game. This game gave us a playoff atmosphere and, hopefully, we can carry that momentum forward.”

PD: Jatarie White 19, Brayboy 7, Carrick 2, Gallant 2, Morgan 2. HH: A’ja Wilson 14, Gadson Lefft 11, Dickerson 8, Harriford 4, Turbeville 2, Ress 2.

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