Grand Haven had to deal with a set of talented twins in its Class A quarterfinals win over Grand Ledge on Tuesday.
The Buccaneers will see another skilled sister act on Friday in the state semifinals, and this pair may be even more dynamic.
Grand Haven (26-0) will meet Westland John Glenn (24-1) in Friday’s semifinals at 1 p.m. at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. John Glenn, which was ranked sixth in the state at the end of the regular season, upset No. 1-ranked Detroit King in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
Twins Raven and Traine Bankston team up with 5-foot-11 point guard Sha’Keya Graves to give the Rockets a dynamic trio that will truly challenge the Buccaneers.
“The twins are super athletic,” Bucs’ coach Katie Kowalcyk-Fulmer said. “They’re very good, and their point guard (Graves) is their best player. She’s a lefty, and everything runs through her. She had 16 points in the third quarter alone (against King). She’s that good. She can shoot the 3 with ease, but then she can make that athletic move to the rim, but then she’ll make the pull-up in your face.
“But I’m watching it thinking, ‘OK, but Abby Cole wasn’t standing there in the lane, and Hannah Wilkerson wasn’t defending it.’”
Wilkerson is the Bucs’ lock-down defender, and she’ll do her best to keep Graves under wraps. On Tuesday against Grand Ledge, Wilkerson held one of the Comets’ high-scoring twins, Hannah Orwat, to just six points — 10 below her average.
And while Cole is always a difference-maker on defense — her 15 blocked shots on Tuesday changed the course of the game in the Bucs’ favor — she’ll also be the focal point of the Bucs’ offense on Friday. That’s because John Glenn doesn’t feature a player over 6-foot on its roster.
“They’re not very deep, and their tallest player is 5-11,” Kowalcyk-Fulmer said. “We need to get it inside, because who do they put on Abby? If they want to put their 5-11 point guard on her, then bring it on. We’d love to be able to sit her down with 2-3 fouls in the first half.”
Kowalcyk-Fulmer’s biggest concern is the on-the-ball pressure applied by the Rockets’ guards.
“Their perimeter defense is their strength,” Kowalcyk-Fulmer said. “They’ll rip and claw the ball away from our guards. We’ve got to be strong with the ball. Even though it doesn’t look like they’re playing that hard, they’re always snatching it away, and they’re dangerous in transition.
“Their No. 4 is a lock-down defender. She’s going to be in (Bucs’ point guard Amanda) Merz’s grill all game. Merz is going to be in trouble if she tries to dribble through it.”
The Bucs will also have to be aware of the Rockets’ tendency to shoot the ball from anywhere on the court.
“Their three stars will shoot from deep,” Kowalcyk-Fulmer said. “Graves had three air balls in the first half, then hit four 3’s in the second half. They keep shooting them. They take a lot of garbage shots, but they actually make them.”
In addition to an obvious size advantage, the Bucs also have the benefit of playing under the bright lights on the big stage at the Breslin Center in East Lansing for the third consecutive year. John Glenn didn’t make it out of its district last year.
“That experience helps,” Kowalcyk-Fulmer said. “We’re pretty familiar with the Breslin Center. It’s a big deal when you walk into that atmosphere, and our kids, even if they didn’t all play on the court last year, they were a part of it. That experience was big for us (against Grand Ledge), and in all of these big games.”
Kowalcyk-Fulmer told Cole and her teammates before Tuesday’s quarterfinal game that it was time to put that big-game experience to work.
“Coach K said, ‘Go show them how it goes. Show them how to do it,’” Cole said with a smile.
And the Bucs did.