It was the kind of game VR coach Jason Robinson expects to see his team play night-in and night-out — no matter who the opponent happens to be.
"I'm very proud of them, 6-1 right now, and to beat a program like Central that's tough and are going to be tough," Robinson said. "I just don't want them to take a game off. Kids have mental lapses and they take games off and things like that, but we push the envelope with them. We feel like every game's important for us. The next game is the biggest game of the year. That's kind of been our mentality," Robinson said.
Things started off well enough for the Wildcats (6-1), who controlled most of the first quarter and held a four-point lead after the first eight minutes. But the Lions (1-2) wouldn't go away.
With a little help at the free-throw line, going 21-of-30 in the first half alone, Central was able to pull within two at halftime, down just 38-36.
"They played hard, and I challenge these guys every night they step out on the floor, every day we're in practice, to play with intensity because when you play hard, you can make up for a lot of other things. The effort we played with [Saturday] defensively allowed us to shut a good offensive team down, to a certain extent," Central coach Darius Smiley said.
Villa Rica was able to open up a four-point lead back up after three quarters, but in the fourth it was anybody's game. The Lions kept things close through the first five minutes of the final quarter — never trailing by more than two points and cutting it to a one-point game several times.
With 4:08 left, Justis Ward made a two-point shot to give the Lions a brief 48-47 lead and Jayleen Terry went 1-of-2 from the line to tie the game at 49-all less than a minute later. Each time not only did VR respond, but it was Xavier Hughes who scored six of his 10 points in the final 3:30 of the game to keep the Wildcats on top.
It was a game of contributions from everywhere by the Wildcats, and it needed to be. VR was whistled for 19 fouls in the first half and 30 on the night, with Josh Lay fouling out and several others getting close.
Rodney Hill was the Wildcats' top scorer with 13 points to go along with Hughes' 10. On the night, 11 different Wildcats scored, with eight of those scoring at least four points. Delano Mims led VR with eight rebounds.
"It is what it is with the fouls. A lot of that we brought on ourselves reaching and not moving our feet defensively. But with that being said, we dress 15 for a reason. We play all 15 before Christmas for a reason, and that's our mentality. When you get in situations like this, we don't have one superstar to go to every night. We've got a bunch of guys that if they go out and play hard and give us everything they've got, they can contribute and be positive in our program," Robinson said.
Kahlil Wynn's 16-point effort led the Lions, while Elijah Ross added 11 points and Justis Ward had an 11-point, 13-rebound double-double. Central also got valuable minutes from several other players on the night.
"I've got a bunch of guys. Elijah Ross has stepped in and done well, Blake Reese, who's a senior and we rely on a bunch, Shaq Allen, Malik Strickland did a good job coming off the bench and did an extremely good job in the first half. We've got some guys that if we can just kind of continue playing with that effort and find a way to get it rolling, I like our chances," Smiley said.
Just three games into the season, Smiley is pleased with some of the things he is seeing from his team, especially on Saturday night. The Lions will face Heard County, who they beat, 54-42, earlier this week, again on Tuesday at home. The first-year coach wants the intensity to carry over.
"I want to see us play with the same kind of intensity we played with [Saturday] against Heard County. First time we played Heard County, the effort wasn't there and it was a close game. Heard County has a good basketball team. They're young and they play hard. I just want our guys to come out and play 32 minutes," Smiley said.
The Wildcats return to their region schedule on Tuesday with a 7:30 p.m. trip to North Paulding.
Villa Rica girls 77, Central 53: Coming off a sloppy game on Tuesday, just about everything went right for the Lady Wildcats (4-3) in a 24-point home win against the Lady Lions on Saturday night.
"I really emphasized two numbers — 27 and 28. Twenty-seven was the number of lay-ups we missed [Friday] night and 28 was the amount of turnovers we had [Friday] night. I emphasized that, 'If you get these numbers down, things are going to go better.' They did that. I was very impressed with them. We needed this win at home, our first home win, to set the tone for the holiday break," VR coach James Bailey said.
The game started close, but VR outscored the Lady Lions, 60-31, in the second and third quarters to break the game open. The Lady Wildcats' perimeter shooting had a lot to do with that, as they went 14-of-30 from beyond the arc on the night with half of the makes coming in the third quarter alone.
No matter what defense you're playing, those are numbers that are hard to stop.
"Some of those were a little wider-open than we wanted them to be, but still you get a wide-open shot in a game situation and knock them down, you have to give them all the credit. I think they definitely shot the ball well and I think you combine that shooting percentage with our turnovers, and that's the difference in the game," Central coach Jimmy LeBlanc said.
Leading the charge was Rhianna Warren's 25-point effort, making five 3-pointers herself. Along with Warren, Shamaya Evans had 15, while Britney Wright scored 14 and Kay Crowder just missed double figures with nine.
Warren and Wright are going to lead the way consistently for Bailey this season, but when they are on, it can become contagious.
"That really helps a whole lot. When [Warren's] got it stroking, it kind of boils over on to the other players," Bailey said. "That was real good. I'll take that all day long. I told them our number is 65. If we get to 65 [points], I don't think anybody can beat us."
The Lady Lions (1-2) have Sherae Bonner back, but she is still playing with a brace that restricts some of her movement in her non-shooting, left hand. Wesli Simmons led Central with 21 points, while Brianna Cousins added 12 points and Bonner led the team with eight rebounds.
"Believe it or not, I saw a lot of positives. We battled out there, Wesli had a great game out there," LeBlanc said. "We would have had seven [players] without [Bonner on Saturday]. It's good having bodies, but one thing that we saw is she is still not able to handle the ball completely ... she's definitely getting better. She just has to get used to the brace. It doesn't flex."
The Lady Lions will host Heard County, while Villa Rica returns to Region 5-AAAAA play at North Paulding — both on Tuesday.