Lady Cats developing depth

By Rick White

With six of their top eight players returning, the Clovis Lady Wildcats don’t have many holes to fill off a basketball team that finished second in the state.

The biggest concern for Clovis coach Miles Watters is finding a replacement for junior point guard Tori Quintana, who is out until at least December after undergoing knee surgery 10 days ago to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Watters is feeling better about the situation after freshman Ebony Bunton stepped in at the point and helped the Lady Wildcats capture the tournament title at the University of Oklahoma’s team camp that ended Sunday.

Bunton showed plenty of poise and skill as the Lady Cats finished 9-2 against a field consisting predominantly of large Oklahoma City-area schools. Sophomore Tori Northcutt also did a solid job at the point, Watters said.

“We didn’t ask her to score much,” Watters said of the 5-foot-10 Bunton. “We just wanted her to run our offense. But she can really get out and run the fastbreak.

“She’s a big guard and can see over the double teams when teams tried to press us. She’s got great vision.”

As expected, juniors Brittany Blackmon and Aimee Hilburn carried the scoring load during the four-day team camp, which was capped off by a two-point win over defending Oklahoma state champion Woodard in the title game.

Blackmon and Hilburn, both 5-11, were the top two scorers last year on a Lady Wildcats team that won a school-record 27 games before being derailed by Las Cruces Mayfield in the Class 5A state title game.

Watters said Blackmon was her usual dominant self inside last week while Hilburn continues to flash the all-around game that made her an all-state selection.

“Beside one blowout, every other game was a two to six-point game,” Watters said. “All the teams up here were really competitive and all the teams had two or three really good players, so we faced great competition every day.”
Hilburn said the Lady Wildcats missed Quintana’s outside shooting as much as anything.

“We really miss Tori, but Ebony and T-Bird (Northcutt) did a great job of filling in,” Hilburn said. “After a while teams starting playing a sagging man-to-man or zone, and we needed somebody to step up and hit some shots and T-Bird did that.”

After a slow start, Northcutt found confidence and shooting stroke. She hit several big 3-pointers in the final two games, Watters said.

Clovis also received solid bench play from juniors Jessica Russell, Vanessa O’Neal and Helen Morning-Byrd, Watters said.

“The competition was really good for Ebony, Vanessa and Helen,” Watters said. “It will give them some confidence heading into the season.

“And Jessica really stepped up and added to her range. She knocked down some big shots from 15 feet.”

The camp is the only one Clovis will attend this summer.

Most of the Lady Wildcats play on a 15 & under AAU team that is headed for nationals in mid July.