GRIFFITH | It's critical for teams in the 3A Griffith Sectional not to be intimidated by the host Panthers, who are shooting for their sixth straight title.
But when the combined record of the seven participating schools is 40-69, it's difficult not visualizing coach Tom Golumbeck's Panthers hoisting another trophy.
They took a step closer to that goal Friday night with a 37-13 win over Hammond, holding the Wildcats to four points through three quarters.
In the other semifinal, Lew Wallace somehow overcame 32 turnovers and 12-of-28 foul shooting to oust Clark 36-22 before a near-empty gym.
"We didn't come out ready to play in the first quarter," Golumbeck said of his team's 5-0 lead. "We lacked focus and intensity and if we do that (Saturday), it's going to be a very sad locker room."
Guard Courtney Bell led the Panthers (11-10) with 13 points, often landing on her backside following each long jumper. Foul or flop?
"We don't teach flopping," Golumbeck said. "Courtney doesn't have the best balance. If she goes to the basket, she often gets bumped and falls down. She's not the biggest player.
"But she does a great job for us. We ask her to do a lot of things; to score, defend and handle the ball."
Talia Roldan's eight rebounds gave Griffith a convincing 22-12 advantage on the boards, with the Wildcats' 6-foot-3 Kayla Williams grabbing eight to go with her five blocked shots.
Griffith missed nine free throws on the night and had 19 turnovers to 22 for Hammond (5-14).
That was merely a warmup for the nightcap.
Lew Wallace (9-7), without a senior on its roster, owned the boards against Clark (7-15) with a 39-18 advantage as junior Ashanti Mays grabbed 12 to go with her game-high 12 points.
With 2:15 left to play, however, Wallace had 31 turnovers and 31 points. Clark hurt itself with 23 for the game.
Afterward, Hornets' coach Omar Vazquez let sophomore Ayanna Hunter — whom he jokingly called his interpreter — meet the media as he stood by.
"We have to play as a team, not as a 'me,'" said Hunter, who had problems hanging on to the basketball. "I should've passed the ball more and made sharper passes."
Wallace isn't afraid to mix it up and play physical.
"We have a tough team in general that wants to win, wants to bring the sectional trophy back home," Hunter said.