DULUTH, Ga. -- After cracking the Powerade Fab 50 high-school girl's basketball team rankings for the first time this season, Wednesday morning, Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) had a message to send that same evening -- 40th isn't good enough.
Unfortunately for sixth-ranked Buford (Ga.), the message, a 42-38 upset by Riverdale, was sent at its expense.
Was this a statement game?
"Yes, a big one," said Shacobia Barbee, Riverdale's junior forward. "Because (Buford) is a good team with two (Tennessee) signees and I think we did pretty good."
The matchup could be described as blue collar versus blue chip. Junior point guard Andraya Carter, ranked 17th in the 2012 class by ESPN HoopGurlz, and sophomore guard Kaela Davis, regarded as one of the top players in the 2013 class, are capable of controlling a game all by themselves. Contrast that against Riverdale and its group of git'r done underclassmen, the teams couldn't be more different.
Riverdale doesn't rely on any one player, as evidenced by Barbee, a double-double machine in the paint though just 5 feet 10, scoring just eight points against Buford. Uncharacteristically, she even struggled from the free-throw line, converting just two of six attempts in the fourth quarter.
Riverdale coach John Wild insists it is a different player stepping up almost every night. Wednesday night it was sophomore point guard Tyisha Petty to the rescue. The diminutive speedster finished with 20 points, including six in the third quarter when her team regained the lead with an 11-5 run.
"The things (Petty) does for us, not only getting the rim but defensively," Wild said, unable to find the adjective to completely capture his point guard. "She's a great anticipator and she's unselfish, too. She distributes the ball really well. "
Though not a major prospect yet, Petty has her team believing that she will always come through in the clutch; in fact they expect it of her.
"Yeah, kind of," Barbee said of expecting Petty to deliver. "Because at the end of last year she stepped up big so ever since then she' s been stepping up and getting it done."
Such is the theme for Riverdale -- just get it done. It wasn't the prettiest game, more like survival , but finesse and pretty are not part of the Lady Warriors style.
"We knew we had to turn up our defense because usually we just get by with our athleticism," Barbee said. "We knew we had to buckle down in the halfcourt. Our coach told us we have to play halfcourt today because we got out of our press early, so we just had to play halfcourt."
The move to play a halfcourt defense was exactly what Riverdale needed to do to keep the Carter and Davis show from kicking into high gear.
Riverdale also caught a break when Carter picked up two quick fouls in the early minutes of the first quarter. For a time it looked like the Lady Warriors were going to run away with the game but Buford coach Gene Durden took a chance and reinserted Carter back into the game with 1:34 still to play in the opening period. The gamble paid off as Carter created a few plays in that short time and kept her team in the game. She scored all nine of her points in the first half and limited the damage in that first eight minutes to a seven-point deficit.
Riverdale also did a tremendous job on Davis. In the semifinal against Greater Atlanta Christian she scored 16 points in the first half on her way to 23 total in front of her future college coaches Pat Summitt and assistant Dean Lockwood. Collectively the Riverdale defense held her to 13 points.
Though Riverdale is without a single 6-footer on its roster, it is one of the best rebounding teams you will find. Most often it is Barbee who is grabbing the offensive board and converting the second chance points but sophomore forward Olivia Jones, just 5-9, is equally as active at forcing the issue.
"We know once we crash the boards and get the rebound on the offensive glass that's going to fire our teammates up," Barbee said. "If anybody does it, it's going to fire us up. Once we get to that and 'd' up on the big kids, or whatever, our teammates, we just come together and just get fired up."
And though Barbee may be the best player on the Riverdale squad, she won't take credit or blame for anything that goes on individually. It's in the team's DNA to share the wealth. But for this blue-collar team, which is the defending state champion in Tennessee, that wealth may include an even higher national ranking after winning the Peach State Holiday Invitational's top (red) division.
NOTES: Dr. Phillips (Orlando, Fla.) won the tournament's green division over Alpharetta (Ga.) 49-31 behind the two-headed monster deployed in the backcourt of Taryn Griffey and Sydnei McCaskill. It was McCaskill who led the team with 16 points in the finale. Griffey finished with 12 points, a solid encore to the 21-point show she put on in the semifinal.
Griffey also gets credit for the play of the day with an impressive, high-flying blocked shot on an unsuspecting defender that brought the crowd to its feet. The comparisons to male players like Nate Robinson of the New York Knicks or the legendary Spud Webb are legitimate as Griffey stands just 5-6, yet snatches rebounds right near the rim and plays the game in the air as well as anyone.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.