By: Conor Revell
Highland Heights, Ky. – Taziah Jenks proved Thursday that she may be the best sophomore in the state.
Jenks scored a career high 31 points in 21 minutes to lead Mercy to an 85-56 blowout win over Knott County Central in a St. Elizabeth Healthcare/KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16 State Basketball Tournament first-round game at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena.
“She’s a special player,” Mercy head coach Keith Baisch said. “Her ability to use her length when she pressures them makes it difficult for opponents to throw over her. A lot of times she can just grab the ball out of the air and take it to the basket and score. She played a complete game, she had the heart and determination to get rebounds and steals, that’s what makes her dangerous.”
The sophomore shot 10 of 17 from the field including 1 of 2 from three-point land and 10 of 11 from the charity stripe.
“It felt great to play like that,” Jenks said. “But, I was nervous at the beginning.”
Jenks also had five rebounds and five steals.
“She’s fast and a great player,” Knott County Central head coach Jeff Honeycutt said. “She made a lot of great plays and I’m sure a lot of colleges are going to be after her. She’s not just a slasher, she can shoot, and has a great all-around game.”
It’s the Jaguars (23-9) first state tournament win since bringing home the state title eight years ago.
Knott County Central (24-10) fell behind 24-7 in the first quarter and trailed 45-27 in the second quarter before going on a 13-1 run to cut the deficit to 46-40 at the half.
“We were definitely more relaxed in the second quarter,” Honeycutt said. “We got used to the speed of the game. It’s one of those things where we’re normally as quick or quicker than most teams we play. When you combine their size to the speed at which they play, it’s going to be hard.”
Mercy allowed the Lady Patriots to get within 48-43 at the start of the second half and then hit the gas pedal and went on a 23-4 run and led by as many as 30 points in the fourth quarter.
“It was all about starting to relax defensively,” Baisch said. “We started doing the things we were doing in the first quarter. We were making good passes and not taking bad shots. We were running our plays and moving the ball inside-out. When we got our big lead at first, we got a little complacent and started making one pass and then taking a shot. We weren’t getting out on their shooters and went to sleep.”
The Jaguars made 32 of 60 (53.5 percent) from the field including 5 of 15 (33.3 percent) from three-point land and 16 of 20 (80 percent) from the free-throw line.
A large part of of their offensive success was because of Knott County Central’s 27 turnovers leading to lots of fast-break points, 17 of those turnovers were Mercy steals.
The Jaguars also dominated the glass with 35 rebounds, 14 more than the Lady Patriots.
Danielle Feldkamp, Mercy’s lone senior, controlled the paint and finished with 12 points, six rebounds, and four blocks.
“It was definitely a more exciting experience because I was actually on the floor,” Feldkamp said. “I was very nervous coming in. But I settled down quickly and told myself this was just like any other game. Once we got out there, we played our game, we had a few mishaps, but finished it off.”
Hope Sivori was a true floor general and had five points, a game high eight assists, four rebounds, and one steal.
“She played great,” Baisch said. “She made some great throws, some that I was worried about whether we’d get to them, but she put them in the right spot to TT. One time she threaded the needle, it was almost like an NFL quarterback throwing. I’m extremely proud of her with the eight assists.”
Raquael Reese added nine points, three rebounds,and three assists while Regan Berger had nine points and four steals and Sydney Rivette had nine points and four steals.
“I think we followed the game plan and listened to our coaches,” Reese said. “We ran the plays that we have run a million times in practice. We knew the spots that we needed to be in and who was going to be where. It was easy because we’re used to each other and we know what we’re good at.”
The Lady Patriots shot 20 of 42 (47.6 percent) from the floor including 7 of 13 (53.8 percent)from three-point land and 9 of 13 (69.2 percent) from the charity stripe.
Jada Higgins, who fouled out with 2:05 to go in the third quarter, paced Knott County Central with 13 points, three rebounds, and three assists.
Kamry Thornsberry, who hit 3 of 4 three-point shot added 11 points and four assists while Allie O’Hair also had 11 points and four rebounds.
Mercy will play the Ryle vs. Simon Kenton winner in the quarterfinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday.