Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Flowers on track with season plan

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Raphael Talisman⁄The Gazette
Keyona Bryant (22) throws up an off-balanced shot against Bladensburg during the Jaguars’ County 4A League victory Friday in Bladensburg.
Morgan McCollum sat in the top corner of the bleachers at Bladensburg High School behind the Mustangs’ bench Friday night. From that vantage point she watched her team lose, 59-39, to Charles H. Flowers through the lens of a camcorder with which she was filming the game.

It’s the last place coach Lester Butler would want the injured senior point guard to be relegated. After the turnover-filled loss that began with the Jaguars leading 15-2 at the end of the first period, he quipped that he had no comment — then got to the heart of the matter.

‘‘A team without a point guard is like a team without a head,” he said.

McCollum spent her third week on the sidelines this week, but she could return as early as next week, Butler said. That moment can’t come soon enough for the Mustangs. They have lost four in a row and slipped from joining Bowie, Flowers and Henry A. Wise as the best in the County 4A League outside three-time defending state champion Eleanor Roosevelt.

Compared with floundering Bladensburg, the Jaguars have enjoyed a season short on surprises. They have won three in a row and are third in the league. With four starters returning from the team that fell to Roosevelt in the Class 4A South Region final last year, coach Patrice Frazier said she wouldn’t expect anything different.

‘‘It’s pretty much the same thing,” Frazier said of this season. ‘‘I’ll say it’s according to plan.”

McCollum’s injury has been a particular problem for the post-oriented Mustangs. With their true point guard out, the big pair of 6-foot-3 Kiara Henderson, a Loyola University recruit, and 6-2 Uchechi Ahaiwe had limited chances Friday. The Jaguars held Henderson to two points and Ahaiwe to eight.

Guard Joelle Hill took over most of the ball-handling duties and led the Mustangs with 15 points. She shared the makeshift point guard role with Candace Burch (seven points), Delmesha Adamson and Vanica Proctor.

The team’s sudden slowdown doesn’t surprise Butler, considering the position he’s missing. Since McCollum has been out, teams routinely put full-court pressure on the Mustangs, which makes the beginning of every possession a white-knuckled adventure.

‘‘You need a point guard to run the team,” Butler said. ‘‘I knew it wouldn’t work from Day 1.”

Bladensburg chipped away at the early deficit and turned it into single digits when Proctor hit Ahaiwe inside for a layup. Keyona Bryant, who had a game-high 16 points, made two free throws with less than a second remaining in the half to put Flowers ahead, 30-19.

The Jaguars went on an 18-6 rally in the first five minutes of the third period in which Terran Quattlebaum scored six of her 13 points. Bladensburg never came closer than 17 points afterward.

Despite the similarities between this year and the last, the Jaguars would like to make a link to some older history. They were the last team to beat Roosevelt in the postseason, when in 2004 Flowers knocked out the Raiders in the regional semifinals.

‘‘Pretty much it’s been the same old thing [since then],” Frazier said. ‘‘We’re glad to say we’ve been there. But can we change it? We’re really looking at ourself and what are some of the things that we can do.”

Flowers has a tough week ahead, visiting fourth-place Parkdale on Tuesday and hosting the Raiders on Feb. 11. Bryant said the key to winning big games like those is the mindset.

‘‘We just keep working at it,” Bryant said. ‘‘We don’t think about, ‘Oh, we’re playing Roosevelt.’”

E-mail Kevin Hilgers at khilgers@gazette.net.