The gossip spreading Friday through the Whale Branch Early College High School gym was that the Denmark-Olar girls had dismissed an important Region 5-A game with the Warriors as nothing more than practice.
Denmark-Olar faces a game Saturday with rival Blackville-Hilda. The Warriors were a scrimmage.
Whether the whispers were truth or savvy placement from a Warriors' coach or administrator, Whale Branch brought the intensity, shutting down Denmark-Olar with its full-court pressure and zinging timely passes on the offensive end.
The Warriors won 73-35 in the matchup of the region's undefeated teams. Both entered 4-0 in 5-A.
"We were ready for them," said Whale Branch post player Shaniqua Johnson, who tweaked her knee near the end of the victory. "We went in the locker room, got all the girls hype and prepared ourselves. We was ready."
Whale Branch stayed in "Black," its 2-2-1 full-court zone press, until the margin was well out of hand. Denmark-Olar couldn't find an answer. And Whale Branch turned the chaos into easy buckets in transition or attacked the basket with guard Kemoni Jenkins feeding Jonae Riley and Johnson underneath.
"The biggest word is 'prepare,'" Jenkins said.
Whale Branch coach Wilbert Bryant told his team it could achieve whatever it wanted if his players continued with complete effort.
He found little to critique Friday.
Whale Branch manufactured a 24-0 run to end the second quarter and start the third quarter after switching to a 3-2 zone in the halfcourt. Everything was designed to disrupt, Bryant said.
The frustrated Denmark-Olar girls struggled with foul trouble. Despite standout Ta'Asia Wright finishing with a game-high 19 points, her team could not find consistency on offense.
Bryant credited a staff of five coaches with installing the defensive schemes.
The Warriors' starters sat most of the fourth quarter.
"The way they played tonight -- defensively, offensively -- that's the best we've played all year," Bryant said. "Like I told them, we step up to the plate like that every game, who knows what could happen?"
Whale Branch girls 73, Denmark-Olar girls 35
Denmark-Olar (11-5, 4-1 Region 5-A) -- Ta'Asia Wright 19, Tyneka Sanders 8, Sarah Johnson 3, Jalonda Odom 2, Daneisha Youmans 2, Grace Johnson 1
Whale Branch (13-5, 5-0) -- Jonae Riley 16, Kemoni Jenkins 15, Cheyenne Rogers 14, Shaniqua Johnson 13, Nikki Smalls 5, Tatyana Ford 3, Cynthia Rivers 2, Dana Chapel 2, Shatayia Clark 2, Jandayi Brown 2, Ayshia White 1
Whale Branch boys 61, Denmark-Olar 34
Even without a couple of key contributors Friday, the Whale Branch boys had the depth to play the type of defense coach Linc Lyles wanted.
The Vikings entered the game with three players averaging double-figure scoring. None reached double digits Friday.
Denmark-Olar, which was 4-0 in Region 5-A, had managed only 11 points by halftime. Whale Branch succeeded by hustling in its zone defense and ran away to a 5-0 start in region.
"We rotated in the zone better than we have all year," Lyles said. "That's huge."
The Warriors got out on Denmark-Olar shooters and held them to two made 3-pointers.
Whale Branch played without brothers Simeon and Michael Middleton but still substituted frequently and succeeded in wearing down the Vikings.
Denmark-Olar senior Christopher Turner, who averaged 18.8 points per game, was held to six Friday.
The Warriors are in commanding position to win a second consecutive region title.
"The more you win, the more everybody really wants to circle your name on the calendar," Lyles said. "They feel like they can't win the region, but if they beat you, they've made their season. Those are the teams that are dangerous."
Denmark-Olar (9-7, 4-1 Region 5-A) -- Chanslar Kirkland 9, William Smith 9, Christopher Turner 6, Patrick Wright 4, Travante James 3, Xavier Reed 3
Whale Branch (15-3, 5-0) -- David Lamb 12, Justin Rhode 12, Damian Brown 11, Devonta Glover 6, Denzel Daniel 5, Jay Abney 4, Chavonne Simmons 4, Jay Middleton 3, Byron Lloyd 2, Marlon Williams 2