With 5:32 left in the half, the Wildcats (2-0) trailed by seven points and were able to cut the lead and only trail by three at halftime. Then, in the third quarter, VR outscored the Lions, 26-11, behind the strong play of Delano Mims to spoil Darius Smiley's debut on the Lion sidelines.
"Central's gotten a lot better since the last time we played them. They did a good job," VR coach Jason Robinson said. "Up until Christmas, we basically play everybody we got and we got into foul trouble. All five starters got a couple fouls and we never did feel comfortable ... I told them at halftime, 'Hey, let's regroup and come out here and play like Villa Rica.' We did a good job, pushed it up."
The Lions (0-1) had fought back from trailing early in the game, and after being down by five after the first quarter, rallied to take as big as a five-point lead. Then some pressure got to the team.
"I just told those guys that if we play a full 32 minutes, play full tilt and play with good effort every time we step on the court, we're going to be competitive. I don't think there's a team on our schedule that are above and beyond what we have," Smiley said. "We lost that game early in the second half. We had some turnovers, which they kind of took the lead there, went up by 10 and wouldn't let us back."
The third-quarter burst from the Wildcats was led by Mims, who scored all 16 of his points in the third quarter, shooting 3-for-4 from the 3-point line. After Mims, it was Josh Lay with 12 points and seven rebounds, while Kelvin Bonds had a 10-point, 14-rebound double-double and Devin Holloway added another 10 points.
The style hasn't changed for Robinson's squad, but it does have to reel it in from time to time and play a little smarter to avoid some of the turnovers.
"We're a work-in-progress, for sure. We don't always make the best decisions. I feel like I want us to play a little smarter basketball, and if we do that, cut down on some of our mental mistakes, we can be a solid basketball team and play with anybody on our schedule. Now if that doesn't happen, we're going to struggle," Robinson said.
Leading the way for the Lions was Justis Ward with 22 points and nine rebounds, with Elijah Ross also getting into double-digits with 16 points. Senior Kahlil Wynn had nine points, but fouled out with 3:19 left in the game after sitting for a while when he picked up his fourth foul midway through the third quarter.
"I thought Justis played well, I thought Blake [Reese] played well. I thought they all played well and they all played hard. That's all I can ask for. We have to find a way to keep Kahlil out of foul trouble, because he gives us some more offense. We just got to work. We've got a break here. We don't play until Dec. 4, so we have a chance to work out some of the kinks," Smiley said.
Villa Rica girls 57, Central 44: In the second attempt of the season, James Bailey now has a win as a head coach, as the Lady Wildcats (1-1) were able to hold off their county rival.
While it is still early, there is some relief after getting his first win.
The game was a back-and-forth contest, as the teams were almost equal after one quarter, Villa Rica played a strong second quarter and the Lady Lions (0-1) made a run in the third quarter. But it was a 22-13 fourth quarter that ultimately sealed the game for the Lady Wildcats.
"Really, in the season opener we executed pretty well, we just had turnovers. [Tuesday] we didn't turn it over as much and that was the factor. Less turnovers and we forced more turnovers. We're still not shooting the ball well, but that will come," Bailey said.
While it wasn't a win in the season opener, Central coach Jimmy LeBlanc knows his young team has some work to do. The good thing is, it showed fight and the problems can be fixed.
"There were three things right there coming in that we said we were going to have to focus on and all three of those things were the difference in the game. The first one was turnovers, and probably the other big one was going to be boxing out. To me, those two things right there alone were the difference. We would cut it to three and then we would turn the ball over three or four times in a row. That was the difference," LeBlanc said. "Everything that's wrong is fixable."
It was a pair of Lady Wildcat staples that led the way in the victory. Seniors Rhianna Warren and Britney Wright scored 22 and 12 points, respectively, to pace the VR offense. Wright's seven boards led the way, while Raushanah El-Amin had six rebounds in the win.
"They're confidence level is up and I try to keep it up. I don't get on them for missing shots. They just need to keep their heads up. They're important for us," Bailey said.
For Central, Brianna Cousins' double-double of 11 points and 14 rebounds led the team, while Hayley Sims and Jasmine Thrash had nine points each.
"When you look out there, we played a senior, five sophomores and two freshmen. You're going to make some young mistakes," LeBlanc said. "So a lot of lessons learned. That's why we've got this game where we got this game. We knew it was going to be quick, we knew it was going to be physical and we wanted to grow up as quick as we could. That's going to help us," LeBlanc said.
And while the Lady Lions will be off until traveling to Heard County on Dec. 4, Villa Rica turns around and travels to East Paulding next Tuesday.
"We have a little bit of a break coming up. We're just going to get some work in. There's going to be a lot more shooting and conditioning, which I hope they don't think is punishment. It's conditioning. That's the key, staying in shape and knocking down shots," Bailey said.