With more than two minutes remaining, the Wichita South girls basketball team had already allowed a season high in points to Wichita Heights, a team playing for its third straight Class 6A title Saturday at Koch Arena.
But that didn't change a thing about South's belief that if it was going to claim its first state title in 35 years, it would do so on the defensive end. So the Titans weren't surprised by everything that happened in the final 90 seconds: drawing a five-second call on Heights, two monstrous blocks by Kirea Rogers or forcing Heights into two difficult shots as time expired.
South won 46-44, capturing a state title exactly the way it should.
"It's been about defense and rebounding for us all season," freshman center Kendrian Elliott said. "It's how we play."
Any questions about nerves for South (24-1), which starts two freshmen and no seniors, were answered quickly. The Titans didn’t rely on their stall offense early, attacking Heights’ 3-2 zone.
That paid off in the final minute of the first quarter, as an Eledria Franklin 3-pointer and five points by Rogers gave the Titans a 17-11 lead.
South maintained control early in the second quarter by dominating the boards. South built a 24-16 second-quarter lead on Madison Northcutt’s putback, part of the Titans outrebounding Heights 15-7 in the first half.
In the game, South outrebounded the Falcons 32-15, including 18 offensive rebounds.
Heights (18-7) did have a spurt of its own, spurred by a Jharian Bowen 3-pointer and Elliott being benched with three fouls. Jurnee Reid’s steal and layup capped a seven-point run that made it 24-24 at halftime.
South started the second half well, including another Mattingly three, but neither team could separate in the third quarter. Heights used a Bowen 3-pointer and six free throws to stay close despite the Titans scoring seven points in the paint. South led 39-38 going into the fourth.
The game appeared set to change when Elliott picked up her fifth foul with more than six minutes remaining.
But South went into its stall offense. A Patriece Dodson layup was the Titans' only field goal of the fourth quarter, good for a 45-42 lead.
Heights climbed within one on Katie Palmer's patient drive for a score but did not score again in the final 2:46.
“We talked about 1978, about the last state title here,” South coach Antwain Scales said. “We wanted to do it again.”
Blue Valley Northwest brought an unblemished record with them as they travelled the turnpike to Wichita. They went home with the same unblemished mark, but took a Championship Trophy as well.
Blue Valley West was the seventh-seeded team, but used an upset against #2 Wichita North and #3 Shawnee Mission East to get to the title game. Northwest jumped on West from the start, and held a 30-16 lead at the half on the way to a 46-29 championship win.
Iowa State commit Clayton Custer led the Huskies with 21 points, while Kyle Harrison chipped in 10.
Blaise Gammon paced West with 13 points.
This was the fourth-straight trip for Northwest to the title game, but they lost the previous three to Wichita Heights.