LINCOLN — Ashley Denton drained five first-half 3-pointers and Dacey Nelson scored 21 of her game-high 25 points in the second half to lead Oakland-Craig to a 59-47 victory over Ponca in the first round of the girls Class C2 state tournament at Lincoln Southwest.
Nelson came into Thursday’s game as the state's leading scorer, averaging nearly 27 points per game, but Ponca coach Bob Hayes tasked his own leading scorer, Kaci Day, to defend Nelson, who mustered just four points in the game's first 16 minutes.
"They put a very athletic girl (Day) on me," Nelson said. "I think she out-athleticized me — I don't know if that's a word — but she's very athletic and that put her in my mind a little bit."
"We told Kaci to keep in front of her and see if she'd make a mistake with the ball, and we could pick her," said Ponca coach Bob Hayes. "She's our defensive ace on the perimeter, and she's done a great job for us all year."
But Oakland-Craig had other weapons, including Denton, who rained down treys from both the left wing and right corner.
"They were really packing the paint in early on and taking away our drives and leaving Ashley wide open in the corner, so for her to step up and hit those 3s in that first half was huge," said Oakland-Craig coach Joe Anderson.
Breanna Gill's putback pulled Ponca within 8-5 with just over three minutes to play in the first quarter. Oakland-Craig answered with a 9-0 run to close out the quarter thanks to a pair of 3s from Denton and one from Mya Guzinski.
Ponca opened the second quarter with buckets from Grace Salmen and Day to pull to within eight. The teams then traded baskets for the balance of the period. Two free throws from Kortney Fethkenher pulled the Indians to within 23-17.
But the Knights closed out the quarter on an 8-3 run with two Nelson free throws and a pair of treys from Denton.
"When we were ahead at halftime by 11 and Dacey only had four points, I felt pretty good," Anderson said.
Ponca wasn't able to hold Nelson in the second half. The prolific Oakland-Craig scorer got on track by scoring the Knights' first 11 points in the third quarter for a 42-33 lead.
Ponca hung tough, though. Syndi Hughes drilled three second-half 3s — including one from NBA range — while Salmen and Day made important buckets to keep the Indians within striking distance.
But the Knights were able to make their free throws down the stretch and hang on for the 59-47 win.
Hughes scored 11 and Day 10 for Ponca, which ended its season with a record of 23-4.
Nelson led all scorers with 25 while Denton tallied 15 and Benne 11. The Knights were to play Hastings St. Cecilia in a 2 p.m. semifinal at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday.
Oakland-Craig 17 14 19 9 — 59
Ponca 5 15 18 9 — 47
OAKLAND-CRAIG (22-3): Kennedy Benne 3 4-5 11; Ashley Denton 5 0-0 15; Mya Guzinski 1 0-0 3; Dacey Nelson 9 5-10 25; Jeannina Blahak 2 1-1 5; Totals 20 10-16 59
PONCA (23-4): Alyssa Crosgrove 1 0-0 3; Maggie McGill 0 2-2 2; Kaci Day 4 2-5 10; Grace Salmen 4 1-4 9; Breanna Gill 2 0-0 4; Syndi Hughes 3 2-2 11; Kortney Fethkenher 0 2-2 2; Morgan Nelson 0 1-2 1; Taylor Lamprecht 2 1-2 5; Totals 16 11-19 47.
3-point field goals: OC 9 (Benne, Denton 5, Guzinski, Nelson 2), PON 4 (Crosgrove, Hughes 3); Rebounds: OC 38 (Benne 9), PON 36 (Lamprecht 6); Blocks: OC 3, PON 6; Turnovers: OC 15, PON 12; Fouls: OC 16, PON 18 (Fouled out: Salmen, Hughes).
Officials: Chris Janda, Ty Starks, Doug Veik