Ashley Watts jerked her shoulders one way, then zoomed the opposite direction, in a flash creating the opening she needed to feed her Butler teammate for another layup.
With plays like this, Watts controlled her team's 55-41 win over Lakeside on Friday night as if she were a puppeteer, the outcome of each play suspended beneath her and shifting with every crossover dribble, 3-pointer and no-look pass.
The 5-foot-5 junior point guard scored a game-high 23 points as the Bulldogs won for the eighth time in nine games. Butler, whose lone region loss was by two points to Glenn Hills, went ahead for good midway through the second quarter with a 10-2 run.
"We're starting to understand what it takes to be that championship-caliber team," coach Keisha Stewart said. "I saw some plays (Friday) where in the past we would have probably given up on, but this time we kept hustling and fighting for those loose balls. That's what's going to take us to the next level."
Part of the reason Stewart feels like this is because Watts is playing more "like a complete point guard," she said.
When Lakeside inched within nine points in the fourth quarter, Watts pulled the ball back at midcourt and forced the Panthers to come out and guard her. She resisted the urge to charge ahead for another basket or impossible-angle pass.
"It's hard, because that's me," said Watts, who averages 18.5 ppg. "I want to hurry up and score a lot of the times."
Watts, who did not commit a foul in the first half, sat out at least half of the final two periods with foul trouble. Three quick whistles parked her on the bench during the third quarter, but Butler's lead continued to swell with the strong offensive play of Shemeka Carter (nine points).
"In the past, she would want to get the ball and score, score, score," Stewart said of Watts. "She's learning now how to run the floor and take care what she needs to take care of (rather) than going down there and putting up all these shots."
Said Lakeside coach Moe McCormack, "You have to respect her vision, but at the same time take it away. She does such a good job creating passing angles."
The game was the start of a tough region doubleheader for the Panthers, who play host to defending champion Hephzibah today. Friday's defeat was just their second region loss.
Lakeside cycled the ball around and through Butler's zone defense with precision but struggled to convert easy buckets inside.
"We took the shots we needed to take, we just didn't make them," McCormack said. "We were moving the ball so well when we stayed within our game and concept -- making the diagonal pass inside, things like that."
Tishal Turknett led Lakeside with 17 points. Point guard Carolyn Hennecken, scoreless in the first half, finished with 11.
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or email@example.com.