CARY — The screws holding down the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference girls basketball race tightened more as Cary edged Athens Drive 54-53 Wednesday night in a back-and-forth battle at the Imps’ gym.
Athens Drive’s loss dropped the Jaguars from first place. It also means no team made it through the first half of the league schedule with fewer than two losses. The Jaguars, this year’s surprise team, fell to 10-6 overall and 5-2 in SWAC play.
Meanwhile, Cary improved to 13-3 and 5-2. Cary was one of four teams along with Apex, Holly Springs and Green Hope trailing Athens Drive by one game with two losses entering the night.
Cary senior center Azura Stevens and Athens Drive junior guard/forward Grace Hunter, two of the area’s leading scorers, came up with big plays from start to finish.
Duke-bound Stevens finished with 37 points, 22 rebounds and five blocked shots. She’s been averaging 30.8 points.
Hunter, who averages 27.1 points and whose recruiting interest has picked up, countered with 23 points, 13 rebounds and 5 steals.
Athens Drive’s Brinae Thornton was the only other player in double figures with 17 points as she hit four 3-point field goals.
“It’s exciting this year that the conference race is so competitive,” Stevens said. “It’s going to come down to blood, sweat and tears.”
In the end, Cary won because 6-foot-5 Stevens can beat a team so many different ways. She posted up inside, she drove the lane, and she buried a 3-pointer.
She also has the strength to start fastbreaks with rebounds and the agility to run the court and finish fastbreaks.
“There’s a reason she’s going to Duke,” Athens Drive coach Dayna Jordan said. “She does everything she had to and more. She and Grace battled. They’re both Division I athletes.”
Athens Drive led 50-48 on a fastbreak basket by Hunter when Cary got the ball down low to Stevens for three straight baskets. But it wasn’t just her height that allowed her to score. She used her footwork to get position and then to turn to the basket.
But Athens Drive battled back one more time as Hunter’s fastbreak trimmed the deficit to 54-53. The Jaguars got the last shot at the buzzer, but an 18-footer by Briana McCrimmon was in and out at the buzzer.
“That ball was down and it came back out,” Cary coach Pat Daly said. “Sometimes you got to be a little lucky to win a game like this one.”