Ashtyn Baker scored 19 points Saturday as the hosts gave themselves a leg up in the Division 2-A West girls standings, taking control in the second quarter to defeat the Lions 52-40.
Saturday's game was a makeup of a contest that was postponed because of snow on Jan. 22, creating a rare situation in which the top two teams in the league will play each other back-to-back. Harding hosts Northpoint on Tuesday.
"We love this time of the year," said Northpoint coach Barry Gray. "We'll probably see Harding two more times ... I'm real proud of the girls."
Gray has guided the Trojans, who are ranked fifth in both this week's Dandy Dozen and D2 state polls, to the state final four in each of the last three seasons. The gold ball has eluded them, but this year's team has the potential to change that, with Baker leading the way.
The 5-7 junior was the closer Saturday, scoring or assisting on Northpoint's final 12 points after the Lions (19-5, 9-1) had closed a double-digit lead to five.
"My coach has put me in that situation since I was in the eighth grade," said Baker, who has helped her team to a 103-20 record since joining the varsity.
"It helps me handle the pressure, keep calm and have a level head. We had some nerves (early), but we relaxed. Games like these grow us."
After sinking a pair of free throws, Baker threaded a three-quarter-court pass to Jade Wells for a layup that made it 42-33. She then hit a couple more from the line, before setting up Wells (12 points) and Lindsey Whiteside (15 with three 3-pointers) for buckets and then finishing up with a nifty drive in the lane.
"It was a high-energy game," said Gray. "I thought our defense was pretty good and we won the first-half rebounding by four. And we were very intense and purposeful on defense."
Northpoint (24-1, 10-0) trailed after the first quarter but never looked to be in too much danger after outscoring the Lions 15-1 in the second. In fact, the only intrigue in the closing seconds was why Baker was frantically pushing the ball down the court and trying to score with a 12-point lead.
The reason? Point differential. If Harding wins Tuesday's game by more than 12, it would be the league champion and the top seed in the West Region tournament.
Anna Horner scored 11 points to lead the Lions, who are ninth in both the Dandy Dozen and the state poll. Sarah Luttrell chipped with 11 as the Trojans did an effective job containing leading scorer Antoinette Lewis, who managed just five.