Strong start sends Knox to win over visiting Lady Bears

By John Henson, Managing Editor

BARBOURVILLE — With a potent combination of shooters and one of the state’s best young post players in the paint, the Knox Central Lady Panthers enter the 2021-2022 season with their best chance at competing for a 13th Region title since Kim Mays was the state’s Miss Basketball.over 30 years ago.
The Lady Panthers showed why they are a contender this week as they completed a two-game sweep of Harlan County opponents with a 68-52 victory Thursday at home over the visiting Lady Bears of HCHS. Knox opened the season with a 19-point win Monday at Harlan.
Freshman forward Halle Collins dominated around the basket against HC with a 26-point, 12-rebound night. Guard Presley Partin, who came back for a second senior season, added 18 points.
Knox Central build a big early lead but the Lady Bears showed some grit in the second half.
“They also can put the ball on the floor and are a well-balanced team,” Harlan County coach Anthony Nolan said. “The problem was we still had doubt the first half. There isn’t room against a team like that to have doubt. You either play to win or play not to lose. I think we finally turned the corner and played to win. I think we flipped the script the second half.”
First-year Knox Central coach Steve Warren is excited about his team’s chances this season..
“We have a lot of potential. We’re trying to put a lot of pieces together,” he said. “I’m new to the team and so is my staff. We’re trying to take baby steps. I thought we had a tremendous first half. The second half we got away from what we were doing and lost some discipline on offense. Hats off to Harlan County though. They got after us and it bothered us some. They didn’t quit. They will have a good team as well.”
Harlan County (0-2) was again led by sophomore guard Ella Karst, who finished with 20 points.
The Lady Bears struggled to keep up early as Collins and Partin got Knox off to a strong start in building a 22-10 lead after one quarter. The Lady Panthers’ advantage grew to 42-16 by halftime as Timberly Frederick came off the bench to hit three 3-pointers against a Harlan County zone that had trouble covering shooters.
“We let them get their feet set and they have good shooters on the perimeter,” Nolan said. “They also can put the ball on the floor and are a well-balanced team.”
But instead of being on the losing end of a running clock, the Lady Bears picked up the effort on the defensive end in the second half and outscored Knox 21-18 in the third quarter and 15-8 in the fourth period.
“I didn’t see anything the first half we could not have matched up with. We had no points from the wing and we weren’t looking to take the shot, and those were shots we hit in practice,” Nolan said. “We need game experience and learn to play with confidence. The second half we decided to be the aggressor and take the shot. I also thought our defense got us going. It was a brutal first week with Knott (Central) and Knox, but I think we grew up a lot tonight in the second half and we’ll continue to get better.”
Sophomore forward Paige Phillips helped spark the improved play in the second half as she finished the night with 12 points while hitting all four of her shots from the field.
“We see that from Paige in practice. She is one of the better athletes we have and she can give us that night in and night out. I can see her filling an important role because she is versatile,” Nolan said. “We just have to be patient as a team. It’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. We understand that, just like last year. “
The Lady Bears return to action Monday at Barbourville. Knox Central will play host to Madison Central on Tuesday.
Knox Central rolled to a 54-28 win in junior varsity action as Hensley led the Lady Panthers with 14 points.
Cheyenne Rhymer paced the 0-2 Lady Bears with nine points. Maddi Middleton scored eight. Whitney Teague and Trinity Jones scored four each. Hailee Hensley added three.