Lady Cards repeat as White, Greer, & Maggard Holiday Classic champions

Published 5:23 pm Wednesday, December 21, 2022

With high-level competition everywhere, tournament play in December can be complex for even the best Kentucky basketball teams.

Yet the Lady Cards found a way through it, winning the White, Greer, & Maggard Holiday Classic for the second straight year to retain their title.

Though initially scheduled to play Saturday, they received a bye and took the court in the tournament quarterfinal game Sunday night against Christian Academy – Louisville (CAL).

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The Lady Cards came out on top, defeating the Lady Centurions 68-63.

“Our kids played hard the whole time. They battled for 32 minutes”, said Head Coach Robbie Graham. “We knew it would be a good game.”

Early on, the Lady Cards looked like they would roll to an easy victory, taking a 20-7 lead after the first quarter.

However, led by crisp three-point shooting from Brianna Wilkins and Mariah Knight, the Lady Centurions battled back to narrow the Cards’ lead to 3 points in the second half.

Yet behind Ciara Byars’ game-leading 27 points, GRC continued to add to their lead and refused to allow the Lady Centurions to get any closer.

When asked about her scoring output, Byars noted that adjustments were made based on the Lady Warriors’ defense.

“They played us man [defense] and just mixed up in zone, so just attacking and getting downhill and making shots [was key]”, she said. “We just knew we had to keep pushing.”

One night later, the Lady Cards played in a rematch against Mercy Academy, the only team to defeat them earlier this season.

Despite trailing at the end of the first three quarters and a 20-point performance by sophomore star Leah Macy, a strong push on offense and defense empowered GRC to come out with a 66-59 victory against the Jaguars.

“We knew it was going to be a war,” said GRC Head Coach Robbie Graham. “Defensively, we stayed with our principles. We told them you’ve got to win the individual battle for us to win the war.”

Just behind 24 points from her sister Ciara Byars, Brianna Byars scored 22 points.

Several aggressive drives to the basket, two of which resulted in three-point plays, played a prominent role.

“I just know that if I do what I’m supposed to do…the team will follow”, she said. “We had a chip on our shoulder being number two [ranked] and losing to the team that was number three [ranked]. It drives everyone to play hard.”

Defensively, the Lady Cards saved their best for last.

Against a Notre Dame team that entered with an undefeated 8-0 record, the Lady Cards’ suffocated the Panda offense en route to a 54-42 victory in the final.

They gave up only 10 points in the first half while on their way to a 26-10 halftime lead.

“[Noelle Hubert] is one of the better shooters in the state, so we wanted to really squeeze her and not let her get loose,” Graham said. “We just wanted to cause some turnovers and pressure.”

Trinity Gay, who finished with All-Tournament team honors along with Brianna Byars, gave the Lady Cards momentum early with a three-point basket.

“Coming into this game, I just wanted to be ready. You always have to be ready to play”, she said. “That three definitely…got me going.”

With an undefeated streak to defend, the Pandas did not go away quietly.

Though GRC extended its lead to 22 points after three quarters, the Pandas cut the lead in half during the fourth quarter via 15 points from Hubert and 10 from Sophia Gibson.

However, the Lady Cards were not deterred and ultimately prevailed.

Coach Graham was asked what advice he gave his team as the Pandas made their run.

“Just do what we do…be us, don’t get out of character”, he responded. “Do your job. Win your battle. [If] you win your battle, we win the war.”

When all was said and done, not only did Ciara Byars win Tournament MVP honors, but she also scored her 1,000th career point.

“It’s a great feeling,” she added.

Following Christmas, the Lady Cards season will continue in the Sunshine State as they participate in the Naples Holiday Shootout on Dec. 27th, followed by the Tampa Bay Christmas Invitational from Dec. 28th – 31st. Game times and opponents are yet to be announced.