Sparta’s Natalie Wilks is a well-spoken sort with a reputation of making herself comfortable while socializing with people who were strangers only seconds earlier.
Her mother, Mandy, has seen Natalie thrive in such situations so often that she pegged her with the nickname, ‘Chameleon.’
But Wilks didn’t need to articulate in great detail to accurately describe the wide spectrum of Sparta’s 3-point shooting over a week’s time in two games against Spokane.
“That's good,” Wilks said to sum up Sparta’s 14-of-26 3-point shooting in the Lady Trojans’ 82-57 Class 3 District 11 first-round victory versus Spokane on Tuesday.
“That was bad,” the senior center said of the Lady Trojans’ 6-for-33 3-point shooting versus the Lady Owls in the teams’ regular-season SWCL matchup last week.
Leave it to Sparta coach Josh Loveland to get analytical and break down the dramatic differences in his team’s shooting.
“It was 'Senior Night' last time we played (Spokane) and everybody was wanting to make baskets and score points. But as a team we were taking bad shots,” Loveland said. “We were making one pass and shooting. A lot of times kids think if they're open, it's a great shot. But just because you're open doesn't make it a great shot. If you're not ready, your shoulders aren't square and your feet aren’t set, that's not a shot we want to take.
“We've been working on taking better shots,” he added. “We’ve been preaching over the past week to get shots we know we can make — in-and-out shots and shots where our shoulders are square with the basket.”
Sparta was 7-of-15 from 3-point land in the first half Tuesday and 7-of-11 in the second half. The Lady Trojans outscored Spokane 42-15 on 3-pointers. The Lady Owls were 5-of-18 beyond the arc.
Mya Fulton made four 3s in her season-high 18-point night. Wilks and Brynn Holt both had a trio of 3s, with Wilks scoring 19 points and Holt 11.
The in-and-out route Loveland referred to was a road well-traveled by Sparta.
“At every practice and every game, Loveland tells us to look for in-and-out 3s, instead of making just one pass and shooting a 3,” Fulton said. “We’re more likely to knock down the in-and-out 3 than to catch it from the side and shoot."
“Our in-and-out game is really good,” Wilks said. “When I catch it inside, I look outside first. Tonight, when I would get the ball inside and pass it out to Mya, I’d yell for her to shoot it every single time.”
Fulton even swished a 3-pointer from 30 feet out to beat the buzzer ending the third quarter.
"I wasn't expecting that to go in,” she said. “I thought it was going to be an air ball."
When Fulton is scoring, her value is two-fold. Her defense is consistently outstanding, thanks to her exceptional intensity at that end of the court.
“I didn't get to play much at the beginning of the season. Now, I'm getting more playing time and I feel I've stepped up by doing the best I could to help my team win games,” Fulton said. “I'm trying my best to take more 3s because Loveland likes for people coming off the bench to step up by knocking down some 3s. But I also like assisting my teammates.”
“As soon as I sub her in, I say, 'Mya, go bring us energy,' and she says, 'Yes sir,’” Loveland said. “Mya's energy was fantastic tonight. Offensively, that was the best game she's had.
“Defensively, we want to take people's space away and play with energy. Mya does that every single time,” he added. “She gets out there and I'm constantly saying to her, 'Take (the ball-handler’s) space away.' I want her to be where she can get her hands on the basketball.”
Wilks showed winning versatility by making moves with her back to the basket to free herself for bank shots or by facing up to the bucket and firing away from downtown. She made 3-of-4 3-point attempts.
“When we get certain lineups out there, we are able to pull her out and have her hit some shots,” Loveland said. “She’s not afraid to shoot it and I’m definitely okay with her letting her do it.”
“When (back center Amree Youngmon) comes in, I love going outside because I know I can shoot it or shot-fake and drive and shoot a floater. Either one is good,” Wilks said.
Spokane (12-14) received 15 points from Sydney Bryan. The Lady Owls made 21-of-29 free throws.
“We complain because the fouls are lopsided, but we foul a lot,” Loveland said. “We know that going in. We just hope that they're not going to call them all and we're going to be able to get our hands on passes.”
In Tuesday’s other first-round games, fifth-seeded Springfield Catholic whipped fourth-seeded Forsyth 57-39 and second-seeded Strafford routed seventh-seeded Pleasant Hope 80-27.
The semifinals are Thursday.
Sparta 82, Spokane 57
SPOKANE (57) — Fender 3 3-6 11, Bryan 4 5-5 15, Gideon 0 1-2 1, VanLoan 4 1-2 9, Butler 2 5-7 9, Wallace 2 6-7 12.
SPARTA (82) — Holt 4 0-0 11, Wilks 5 6-9 19, B. Roller 3 2-2 10, Meg. Brown 5 0-3 11, Fulton 7 0-0 18, Youngmon 3 0-0 6, R. Loveland 1 0-0 3, Forgey 1 0-0 2, Mad. Brown 1 0-0 2.
Spokane 15 8 15 19 - 57
Sparta 18 23 26 15 - 82
3-point goals - Fulton 4, Holt 3, Wilks 3, Fender 2, Bryan 2, Wallace 2, B. Roller 2, R. Loveland, Meg. Brown.
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