Posted: 7:26 pm Friday, January 24th, 2014

Southwest DeKalb girls 59, Arabia Mountain 29 

By Adam Krohn

The regular season is winding down in high school girls basketball. That means it’s time for the Southwest DeKalb Lady Panthers to heat up. With their 59-29 home win over Arabia Mountain on Friday in 6-AAAAA play, the Lady Panthers extended their win streak to 12 games. During the streak they claimed the state’s No. 1 ranking from Tucker, a team that beat them earlier this season.

With only four regular season games remaining for the defending state champion Lady Panthers (19-2, 9-1 in 6-AAAAA), the roll they’re on has them poised for another state title, which would be their fifth in the last seven seasons.

“We’re playing good team basketball,” said Lady Panther coach Kathleen Richey-Walton, who has coached the program to all four recent state championships. “We’re sharing the ball on offense and helping each other out on defense. We’re holding each other accountable. And we know we get out what we put into it. Our team chemistry is very good. We’ve had some team bonding experiences – like the one in Phoenix – with positive outcomes and I’d have to say this is the most cohesive team I’ve coached.”

The Phoenix experience Richey-Walton refers to is the 17th annual Nike Tournament of Champions, held in December. The tournament featured 83 of the nation’s best teams spread across 11 brackets. Because the Lady Panthers won the 2013 state title, they were placed in a bracket of state champions from California and Oregon. They finished 2-1 in their bracket and took third place.

Richey-Walton said it was the first time anyone in the program – players or coaches – visited Phoenix.

“The level of competition was very impressive,” Richey-Walton said. “It was a different type of basketball. They challenged us to do things we weren’t accustomed to, so it expanded our game and helped us to prepare for the great teams in Georgia.”

The Lady Panthers haven’t lost a game since the tournament’s finale, when they fell 67-45 to Windward (Los Angeles) on Dec. 20.

With the regular season near its end, the Lady Panthers’ next task is to win the Region 6-AAAAA tournament. That’s not a given, considering the Lady Panthers, Tucker, Miller Grove, Mays and Stephenson are all teams that have played each other tough thus far.

Region title aside, Richey-Walton has said all along it would be very difficult for her team to defend its state title. But the team is playing championship-level basketball at the most important time of the year, and Richey-Walton said the pressure is off.

“I haven’t noticed the players feeling any pressure,” she said. “We have that expectation that when we step on the floor, it’s to win games.”

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