Harper’s huge game lifts top-ranked Young

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If you are defending state champion Young, how do you replace the scoring of Janee Thompson and Alexis Lloyd?

You start with a bigger dose of Linnae Harper and a deeper, if not younger, bench.

Harper had 27 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, sophomore Madinah Muhammad added 11 points and 6-foot-6 junior Khaalia Hillsman (nine rebounds, three blocked shots) and Sydney Snower each had nine points Saturday as No. 1-ranked Young defeated Grosse Pointe (Mich.) South 72-47.

Harper scored the first 11 points of the game against the 2012 Michigan Class A state runner-up, but it was Muhammad who staked the Dolphins (2-0) to a 28-16 lead with 3:31 remaining in the first half with a three-pointer and a putback of her own miss.

Muhammad also had a three-pointer late in the third quarter that gave Young a 46-28 lead after the visitors had closed to 32-24 at halftime, and scored off a nifty pass from senior reserve guard Brittany Morris to push the advantage to 60-39 with 5:43 remaining in the game.

“I think that this game shows that we’re really deep,” said Snower, a reserve a year ago who averaged a little better than 4.5 points per game before moving into the starting lineup this season. “We can utilize our bench a lot of different ways.

“We have to work on our rotation,” added 5-foot-8 senior guard, who put the game out of reach with a pair of three-pointers after the Blue Devils got within 15 points with a late 6-0 run. “But it’s still early. This (Grosse Pointe South) is a really good team. I think we got to see what our bench has to offer.”

Young already knows what it’s going to get from Harper, who had to leave the game in the fourth quarter after taking an elbow to the face.

“In practice, we’re really physical and in a lot of our games they let contact go, so when we’re in those situations we should be able to handle it and keep our composure,” the 5-foot-8 Kentucky-bound senior said.

“I think we’re more post-heavy this year,” she added. “We had more guards last year. But if we get the post more opportunities to get to the basket, that eventually will open up floor for everyone else.”

The key for Young, Harper said, is consistency and focus.

“We’re a different team, but we have the same goal, the same mentality,” she said. “We’re looking forward to a great season, but its’ going to take toughness, consistency, and most importantly, to stay focused throughout the whole time.

“We’re a young team,” Harper added. “Our attention span may not be as long. Staying focused throughout the game will be really critical this year because we are young and our minds may wander somewhere else. But if we stay focused and stay close throughout, this will be a great year.”

Sophomore guard Cierra Rice, who is drawing interest from several Division I schools, led Grosse Pointe South (0-1) with 20 points. Sophomore Aliezza Brown and Gretchen Shirar each had 10 points, and 6-1 Bucknell recruit Claire Deboer added six points and 10 rebounds.

“I don’t think the score really reflects how we played,” Deboer said. “I thought we played really tough. The first half was really close. I was really proud of us. We’ll never have this competition this year. This is the best competition we could ever ask for.”

Grosse Pointe South, which lost to Grand Haven 54-53 in the state finals a year ago, is ranked No. 1 in Michigan by one newspaper and No. 6 by another. The Blue Devils will get stronger when 5-10 junior Bre’nae Andrews returns later this month from an ACL injury.

“Our main goal is to get back to the finals and win it this year,” Deboer said. “We have to play as team, play hard and keep crashing the boards. I thought we crashed the boards pretty well today, but they were crashing the boards well, too.”

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