BY JAMES COLLIER
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RUSSELL Kaeli Ross’ shot was so dialed in even her coach knew the shot was good when it left the sophomore’s fingertips.
As Ross launched another triple only a few steps from Russell coach Mandy Layne, the word “Nice” echoed throughout the “Marv” as Layne praised the sharpshooter’s stroke before the ball left her fingertips.
Layne’s comments started with “Get in there” but finished with “Yes!” as Ross connected on 5 of 8 treys to lead Russell to a 69-34 win over Spring Valley Monday night. After the first 3-pointer fell, Ross knew she was locked in and ready to shoot at any chance she had.
“I’m really confident with my shot,” Ross said. “That’s one thing is (Layne) sets me up and just tells me to pull up. That’s what I’m good at.”
Ross was already dropping back on defense after her last two left her hand.
“She had a super nice night tonight,” Layne said of Ross who led the Lady Devils with 17 points.
With Ross locking down the Lady Devils’ perimeter game, Lakie Sanders and Aubrey Hill controlled the paint and the glass over the undersized Lady Timberwolves much of the night. Sanders kicked in 16 points while missing only 2 shots from the field. Hill tallied a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
With three minutes to play in the contest, Layne had emptied her bench while reaping the rewards of solid bench play by Kylee Arthur and Shaelyn Steele.
“They are growing,” Layne said. “We have a lot of young kids. But to be 5-1 at this stage of the game, we just said in the locker room we are a family and we played like one tonight.”
Russell opened on a 10-0 run before Spring Valley cracked the scoring column on a pair of technical free throws after the Lady Devils had six players on the floor out of a timeout. But the mistake was one of few along the way while forcing 30 Lady Timberwolves turnovers. With the stingy Russell defense creating numerous defensive to offensive conversions, the comical part came when Layne found Sanders and Hill — a center and power forward — running the break, with Sanders dishing the dime to her fellow post player.
The tandem’s first run-out came in the opening seconds of the third quarter when Sanders found Hill while falling down in a double-team effort by Spring Valley (0-4). Hill finished with ease for the bucket and a 43-19 edge.
Hill led Sanders the next trip down the court for the layup and a 50-21 lead en route to a 9-0 run.
“We work on fast break at practice all the time,” Layne said. “Aubrey can run like a deer and Lakie has really stepped up her game. We just did a good job and executed tonight.”
With Sanders often drawing the double team in the post, Hill has been forced to step up and is producing in an “on the job training” style.
“Last year I didn’t really play a lot, so I don’t have a lot of experience,” Hill said. “It just kind of happens honestly. You just kind of know, it’s like an instinct, really.”
However, Sanders is quick to direct her success on the court to the performance of Hill that forces teams to come out of the double team down low.
“It helps me be able to drive the ball,” Sanders said. “I can shoot outside or look for Aubrey in the post as well. It opens up every aspect of the game.”
But when asked if she had plans to convince Layne for some time at the point, Sanders chucked while shying away from the question.
“I absolutely love it because usually in a game, if a post is guarding us, they can’t get out and run the fast break,” Sanders said. “I love seeing the ball out and in front because if it’s there, it’s a layup. It’s a great feeling.”