HOW SWEET IT IS: Lady Cougars to play in Sweet 16 for first time in school histo

For the first time in the history, the Grayson County High School Lady Cougars basketball team has earned the right to play in the KHSAA Girls Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament.

By defeating McLean County, Breckinridge County and Owensboro Apollo in the 3rd Region Tournament, the Lady Cougars advance to play Covington Holmes at BB&T Arena in Highland Heights on Thursday night at 7:00 CST. The GCHS vs. Holmes contest is the final game of the Sweet 16’s opening round.

In the Lady Cougars 36-31 win over Apollo in the 3rd Region title game at the Owensboro Sportscenter, head coach Daniel Pharis, for the first time in his three seasons — according to K105 play-by-play broadcaster Steve Thompson — utilized a zone defense for 32 minutes, in what became a slow-down affair, with neither team allowing the opponent to push the pace of the game.

Thompson said after the victory that, “Coach Pharis just coached the two best games I’ve seen the man coach since he took over three years ago.”

Generally, the Lady Cougars, 22-10, apply pressure defense in an effort to create turnovers and easy scoring opportunities, but because of Apollo’s ability to run the court, Pharis opted to slow down the Apollo attack, turning the contest into a half-court, low post battle. Thompson also noted that the Lady Cougars won nearly every 50/50 ball and crashed the boards with abandon.

Obviously, the strategy worked, with senior guards Grace White and Allie Horton, along with junior forward Hannah Saltsman, nailing free throws late in the game to seal the biggest win in program history.

Pharis, who has posted a 64-29 record in his three seasons, was roundly praised by GCHS Principal, and former highly successful head basketball coach Todd Johnston, at an impromptu pep rally at the high school after law enforcement and LFD personnel escorted the championship club through Leitchfield.

Johnston said Pharis was the best assistant coach he ever had, and that Pharis’ preparation and commitment to the job is one of the reasons he’s enjoyed such overwhelming success at his alma mater.

Sweet 16 Tickets

K105 have information on Monday on the cost of state tournament tickets, as well as where and when to purchase tickets locally. Traditionally state tourney tickets are less expensive if purchased at the participating school rather than at the arena’s gate.

BB&T Arena is located at 500 Nunn Drive in Highland Heights, KY. It’s the home arena of the Northern Kentucky University Norse. Seating capacity for basketball is 9,400. The arena opened in 2008.

Covington Holmes

Holmes, 27-5, played and beat the Lady Cougars 43-34 on Dec. 22 at the Queen of the Commonwealth Christmas tournament held at Bullitt East High School.

Holmes lost in the 35th District title game to Cov. Holy Cross, but advanced to the 9th Region Tournament where the Lady Bulldogs beat Dixie Heights, Conner and Cooper High Schools. The 9th Region tourney was held at BB&T Arena.

Holmes has four players that average double-digit points, with senior guard Jaynice Stovall leading the way with 14.5 points per contest. Stovall and sophomore guard Kamari Graham have combined to take 330 three-point tries on the year, connecting on 113 (34.2 percent).

Holmes played in the 2016 Girls Sweet 16, losing in the second round to Mercer County. Holmes is coached by Tony Perkins.

Head coach Daniel Pharis talks to the crowd at the high school at an impromptu pep rally.

A group of GCHS students await the arrival of the Lady Cougars caravan on the Town Square.