By JON REITER
There was a definite chill outside of the Robert L. Larkin Center on Wednesday night, but the Providence girls’ basketball squad stayed hot on the basketball court as the Class 2A No. 14 Pioneers turned back visiting South Central in impressive fashion, 69-48.
Providence (6-2) used a 16-2 run over four minutes spanning the first and second quarters to blow the game open. After South Central guard Sabra Walker nailed a 3-pointer to knot the contest at 11 with 10 seconds left in the opening quarter, Providence guard Michaela Hoke nailed a trey at the buzzer to give the Pioneers a 14-11 advantage after the first frame.
It was 19-13 Providence following a short jumper from Walker, but freshman star Claire Rauck next sank two free throws for the Pioneers to make it 21-13 with 5:36 remaining in the first half.
Providence center Taylor Smallwood, who was sidelined with foul trouble throughout the first half, still managed to do some damage while on Dottie Galligan Zipp Court by nailing treys on consecutive Providence possessions to give the hosts a 27-13 lead with 4:46 remaining in the first half.
The Pioneers enjoyed a 39-20 advantage at halftime, but South Central began cutting into the Providence lead during the third quarter, narrowing the deficit to 42-32 with 3:29 remaining in the quarter following two free throws from guard Jasmine Nalley.
Providence weathered the storm with reserve center Lillian Hughes leading the way. Hughes nailed three consecutive jumpers during a 9-0 Providence run that extended the lead to 51-32 headed into the fourth quarter.
Providence coach Brad Burden credited Hughes, who he challenged at halftime, for stepping up at a crucial time. The 5-9 junior finished with 15 points and five rebounds and exited the fourth quarter with high-fives and fist-bumps from the Pioneer bench and coaching staff.
“She was really able to get it going for us in the second half, and she’s really our inside presence,” Burden said of Hughes. “She came through in a big way and I was very proud of her. That was the key.”
Leading the way in the scoring and rebounding column for Providence was Rauck, who finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Rauck’s night included 3 of 6 shooting from beyond the 3-point line, and she added 10 points in the second half to go along with her 11-point first-half tally.
Freshman guard Bayley Wade added 12 points for the Pioneers, who next face Salem at the Larkin Center on Friday.
“We think we have a lot of kids who can score and shoot and that opens up the driving lanes for us,” Burden said. “In the second half, I think we settled for a few [shots], and after we were able to handle their press, we started getting good shots again.”
South Central was led by forward Sabra Walker, who finished with 18 points, but another impressive performance came from Nalley, who added 14 points by going 14 of 18 from the free-throw line and not converting a single field goal attempt.
The Rebels (0-3) attempted 29 free throws on the night to Providence’s 26.
“We apply so much pressure on the basketball that teams are going to try and get to the free-throw line,” Burden said. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting out of our stance, showing our hands and moving our feet.”
PROVIDENCE 69, SOUTH CENTRAL 48
Providence 14 25 12 18—69
South Central 11 9 13 15—48
Providence (6-2): Hoke 6, Rauck 21, Smallwood 8, Hunt 0, Wade 12, Jenkins 5, Hughes 15, Brooks 2.
South Central (0-3): Nalley 14, Walker 18, Kaiser 2, O’Connor 2, Miller 8, Sallee 2, Blackmon 0, Mitcham 0, Millner 2.
Rebounds: Providence 33 (Rauck 11); South Central 28 (Nalley 8).
Free throws: Providence 17-26, South Central 20-29.
3-point goals: Providence 8 (Rauck 3, Hoke, Smallwood 2, Wade, Jenkins ). South Central 6 (Walker 5, Miller).
Turnovers: Providence 18, South Central 15.