BY DARREN REESE
ELIZABETHTON - The wind was howling outside Unaka High School Thursday night, and inside a perfect storm was brewing.
And the contributing factors were none too pleasing to North Greene girls' basketball coach James Buchanan.
Not only were the Lady Huskies playing without their best post player, on the road against a tough District 1-A opponent, but they also turned in one of their worst shooting efforts of the season.
Unaka took advantage, leading for all but two minutes of the game en route to a 57-44 victory. The Lady Rangers improved to just 7-5 overall, but 2-0 in the league. North Greene dropped to 12-2 and 1-1, respectively.
"This is a tough place to play as it is," Buchanan pointed out. "Add that to the fact that we are still trying to adjust to Laiken (Morrow) being out, and add that to the fact that we played pretty bad and I didn't do a good job of preparing us."
"Not to take anything away from (Unaka), their kids played great. Hopefully we will do a better job next time we see them."
Morrow - a King College signee - suffered an ankle injury earlier this week, and her absence was noticed considerably.
Unaka head coach Wes Wright made a concerted effort to get the ball into his post player, Brandi Ensor, early and often. She responded by scoring eight first-quarter points and finishing with 24 points and 12 rebounds.
"Laiken's injury certainly changes who North Greene is," Wright explained. "Mendy McNeese is still a heck of a player for them, but they are different on the inside."
"Brandi has been playing good lately, and we thought we needed to get her the ball inside and see what she could do."
Unaka's Alicia Colbaugh had nine points in the first quarter and 13 on the night. Kassie Winters scored eight of her 10 points in the first half as the Lady Rangers took a 30-20 lead into the lockerroom.
North Greene was 7-of-29 from the field in the first half, and only three of those made shots were by someone other than McNeese.
The Lady Huskies finished the game 14-of-49 shooting, with McNeese making eight of those. The junior guard recorded a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Buchanan tinkered with his line-up the entire night, trying to find a group that would work well in the absence of Morrow. Freshman forward Lauren Baxter saw her minutes increase. At 5-foot-9, she is the second tallest player on the team.
"She just got to full stregnth herself," Buchanan said of Baxter. "We are having to adjust on both ends of the court. We are just trying to figure some things out."
Morrow is scheduled to have her ankle looked at again next week, at which time Buchanan will have a better idea of how much time she will miss. She won't play in the Landair Ladies Classic after Christmas, but the coach hopes she can return in time for a January 5 showdown against district rival Cloudland.
"When we can get everyone healthy and get Lauren into the flow of things, I think we are going to be fine," Buchanan noted.
Unaka led by double digits for most of the first half, though the Lady Huskies were able to pull within seven on a couple of occasions, including 44-37 with 4:46 left in the game.
North Greene could never put together a run to get any closer, though. A three-pointer by Corinne Guelli pulled the Lady huskies within 48-40 with just under three minutes left, but Unaka was able to break the North Greene press for several easy baskets down the stretch.
"I knew if it got to the point where we had to press, we were in trouble," Buchanan explained. "Their gaurds are faster. We pressed out of necessity."
"But we couldn't sit there and watch them hold it the rest of the game."
Katelyn Weems scored seven points and grabbed eight rebounds for North Greene. Guilli contributed six points, while Faith Mercer had seven boards.