HOT SPRINGS -- The Greenwood Lady Bulldogs followed their season recipe for success to their second consecutive state championship.
The Lady Bulldogs' relentless defense forced a rash of turnovers that led to more than half their points in a 58-35 win over Vilonia on Thursday night at Bank OZK Arena at the Hot Springs Convention Center for the Class 5A girls championship.
The championship was the seventh for the Lady Bulldogs and 10th for veteran head coach Clay Reeves, who also won three at Greenland before taking over at Greenwood. It's the second straight state title and third in four years for the Lady Bulldogs, although the 2020 title was shared with Nettleton due to the championship game being canceled due to the covid-19 pandemic.
The Lady Bulldogs began this season ranked No. 1 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette preseason rankings and never wavered.
"This was our team goal for the year," Reeves said. "I know it's what our players expected. It starts when they're young. They just work hard their whole career, and I know this team worked really hard."
Greenwood (31-2) relied on defense to force turnovers all season that led to 13 mercy-rule victories in 14 5A-West games.
After three closer-than-normal games in the state tournament last week at Pine Bluff's Convention Center leading up to the championship game, the Lady Bulldogs forced 21 turnovers on Thursday, keyed by 15 steals, that led to 32 points.
"Our kids do play hard," Reeves said. "I think that helps our offense. That's the way we practice and kind of focus on that every day. That can lead to offense. We have players that can move and anticipate well. They're really smart. That makes what our team tries to do really easy on me."
Greenwood forced five turnovers in the final 2 minutes, 15 seconds of the second quarter and the Lady Bulldogs quickly increased a slim, 22-16 lead to 34-16 at the half.
"We had 21 turnovers," Vilonia Coach Jeremy Simon said. "Credit Greenwood, that was their game plan: 'We're going to pressure them as much as we can.' If we handle the pressure, we get good shots."
A steal by Anna Trusty led to a fast-break layup by Mady Cartwright and started the 12-point late second-quarter run. Brooklyn Woolsey followed with a steal that led to a basket by Carley Sexton, another turnover led to a three-pointer by Woolsey, another turnover led to a basket by Sexton and Cartwright capped the flurry with a steal and assist to Izzy Smith, who made a three-pointer from the right corner at the buzzer.
"We scored several there late and hit a couple of big shots," Reeves said. "When Izzy hit the shot that went in right before halftime, that was a really big shot and a big boost. All of them were important. This team usually does throughout the year at different points of the game and have runs. We had a couple of runs that helped extend the lead."
Cartwright, Trusty and Woolsey each ended with five steals.
Greenwood also used a big rebounding edge with a 12-4 advantage on the offensive end, spurred by Adriana Rusin's nine.
"The team we have is unselfish," Reeves said. "They let all of their teammates play to their strengths."
The rebounding advantage led to a 15-1 scoring edge for the Lady Bulldogs off second-chance opportunities.
"Their offensive rebounding, they beat us 15-1 on second-chance points," Simon said. "That's tough to overcome."
Greenwood increased its 34-16 halftime margin to 51-23 after three quarters, starting the quarter with consecutive baskets by Sexton and Trusty and ending the quarter with a 7-0 spiel off a three-pointer by Trusty, and successive baskets by Cartwright and Sexton.
Cartwright earned her second consecutive most valuable player award with 13 points 5 steals, 4 assists and 3 rebounds.
Trusty added 17 points, 5 steals and 4 rebounds. Sexton had 13 points, and Woolsey chipped in 12 points with 5 steals and 4 rebounds.
Cartwright, a senior, and Trusty, a junior, finished the season as the one of the highest scoring duos in state history with a combined 2,868 points. Cartwright scored 1,574 points, and Trusty has 1,294 points with another season to play.
Kinley Mears led Vilonia (29-5) with 12 points.
5A girls scorebook
PCT. — 42.6, FT 100. 3-PT. — 10-23, 43.5 (Woolsey 4-9, Trusty 3-6, Sexton 1-1, Smith 1-1, Cartwright 1-6). BL — 3 (Rusin, Trusty, Woolsey. TO — 8 (Sexton 2, Cartwright 2). ST — 15 (Cartwright 5, Trusty 5, Woolsey 5).
PCT. — 41.4, FT 87.5. 3-PT. — 4-12, 33.3. (Mannion 2-2, Mears 2-5, Sims 0-1, Middleton 0-4). BL — 1 (Sims). TO — 21 (Mears 10). ST — 4 (Middleton, Mears, Mannion, Reed).
Officials — Murry, Thessing, Thomas
Attendance — 5,123
Cartwright, a senior, scored 13 points, had 5 steals, doled out 4 assists and grabbed 3 rebounds in earning her second consecutive MVP award after she also guided the Lady Bulldogs to the state title last yea
Greenwood won its second-straight state championship and third in the past four years although the 2020 title is shared with Nettleton since the championship game was canceled due to the covid-19 pandemic. … The Lady Bulldogs scored 32 of their points off 21 turnovers, aided by 15 steals. … Greenwood never trailed in the game. … The championship is the seventh for the Lady Bulldogs and the 10th for head coach Clay Reeves, who also won three at Greenland before taking over at Greenwood. … The Lady Bulldogs did not lose in the calendar year, winning the 5A-West with a 14-0 run before winning four state-tournament games.
"It's been great, getting to leave Greenwood with three rings. Not very many have been able to do that. It's been great to play my whole career at Greenwood. We have a great fan base."
Mady Cartwright after Thursday's victoty over Vilonia