The way Commerce coach Brad Puckett sees it, the pressure is squarely off his team’s shoulders now.
The Tigers (16-9) took care of Towns County, 45-37, Thursday (Feb. 18) in the Region 8-A Public girls' basketball semifinals to earn a region finals pairing with top-ranked and undefeated Lake Oconee Academy tonight (Friday, Feb. 19, 7 p.m.) at home.
The Titans (22-0) beat Commerce twice during the regular season.
“That’s a nothing to lose situation for us,” Puckett said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the state. They’re undefeated. They’re supposed to win. We’re going to go out, and we’re going to compete, and let the chips fall where they may. I guarantee you our girls will go out, and they play hard.
“You have nothing to lose when you’re playing the No. 1 team in the state.”
Commerce enters the title contest having won 14 out of its last 15 games. In their region-tournament win over Towns County, the Tigers held a double-digit lead for the majority of the second half before the Indians hit four 3-pointers in the final 3:05 to narrow the final margin.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Puckett said. “We were where we were supposed to be. They just hit some shots. They’re just a good team … Every time we played them this year, they just fight to the end.”
But most of the night belonged to Commerce, which never trailed in the game and built a 25-14 lead at the half and increased that lead to 37-22 at the end of three quarters.
Bryanna Sanders paced the Tigers with 16 points, and Carson Hobbs added 13 points. Commerce led by as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Puckett praised his team for not settling for 3-point shots in the win.
“I felt the last two times we played them, we tried to get in a 3-point shootout with them,” he said. “We’re not going to win that contest … Our goal tonight was to take it to the basket, and then they packed in that 2-3 zone, and our goal didn’t change.”
The coach noted the efforts of Lauren Massey, who recently returned from injury, on the boards.
“She was just all over the offensive boards,” Puckett said. “I don’t know how many she had, but she had several put-backs.”
The coach added that Massey went 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
Puckett said he’s “unbelievably proud” that his team will now play for a region title. Commerce last won a region championship in 2015.
“Any time you can be playing for the region championship and knowing that you get to host the first round of state, it's just a good feeling,” he said.