One horrendous half plus one hot half equalled just enough to earn a seventh consecutive North Shore AAA title for the Handsworth Royals senior girls basketball team Wednesday night when they took on the Argyle Pipers.
Fighting nerves, a tough Argyle zone defence and a good old-fashioned cold streak, the Royals shot fourfor-33 - 12 per cent! - in the opening half of the North Shore final played on their home floor to fall behind 3117 at the break. The second half, however, was a polar opposite for the Royals as they caught fire, dropping 49 points to race into the lead and pull out a 66-59 win to claim the North Shore banner.
"It was a crazy turnaround in the second half," said Handsworth head coach Scott Palmer. "I almost wondered, 'Did I get a new set of girls? Are these the same girls that wore the uniforms for the first 20 minutes?'"
Strong Argyle defence combined with Handsworth's penchant for settling for jumpshots led to his team's horrid shooting in the first half, said Palmer. Even when the Royals did get close to the hoop they still missed their shots.
"Nothing was going. There were layups - we'd miss the layup and then in some cases get the putback and miss the putback," said Palmer. "Both teams were nervous to start with. I think the score was 4-4 after six minutes. Nobody was hitting their shots. And then all of a sudden Argyle started hitting some and you could see their confidence because they started to settle. And we still weren't hitting shots. We were just on the back of our heels the whole first half. And they took it to us, they were more aggressive, they wanted the ball more than we did. It was not good. The halftime could not come soon enough for us."
During the halftime break Palmer gave the poor shooting a positive spin.
"I said to them that that was about as bad as we can play offensively. . . . We couldn't be any worse, it had to get better."
It did get better for the Royals. A lot better. In the third quarter Handsworth began attacking the Argyle zone and getting layups and free throws off of drives to the basket.
"As soon as we got scoring, then we started to get some confidence and calm down and started to believe in things," said Palmer. "Sports is such a confidence thing - it's so easy to lose and it's so hard to get back sometimes."
It took until the middle of the fourth quarter but the Royals finally caught up to the Pipers and jumped into the lead, 49-48. From there they took it home. After putting up just 17 points in the first half, Handsworth passed that mark in each of the final two quarters, outscoring Argyle 27-15 in the third and 21-13 in the fourth.
Guard Jaime Hills led the way for the Royals with 26 points and 11 rebounds. The Grade 12 standout, bound for UBC in the fall, went threefor-seven from behind the threepoint-line and seven-for-seven at the free throw line. Elisa Homer was second in scoring for the Royals with 12 points while Abigail Dixon tied for the team lead with 11 rebounds.
On Monday Handsworth and Argyle - possibly along with Carson Graham and Sentinel depending on wild card playoff games this weekend - will begin play in the Crehan Cup,
the Lower Mainland's championship tournament. Argyle will host the first two rounds of the 12-team tournament Monday and Tuesday before the action moves to Steveston for the semifinals and finals.
Four teams will advance from the Lower Mainland to the provincial championships scheduled for March 7-10 at Capilano University - the Royals are hoping to make it to provincials for the 11th year in a row. They're currently ranked fifth in the province and Palmer said if they do make it to provincials they'll have their hands full trying to crack into the top four to reach the seminfinals.
Handsworth has played the top-four teams from Brookswood, Riverside, York House and Oak Bay a combined seven times this season and only won once.
"We're just close but we're not there yet," said Palmer.