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Living up to its potential is what Start hopes to do this season as one of Ohio's most highly regarded girls teams, and the Spartans took another impressive step in that direction in Monday's Blade High School Basketball Classic.
Paced by game highs of 23 points and 12 rebounds from 6-foot-2 senior post player Azia Bishop, Start moved to 5-0 with a convincing 67-34 victory at the Huntington Center.
"We talked about coming out and playing hard and being focused, and we did a very good job of that," Start coach Bob Brown said. "We wanted to hopefully end the game by the first quarter, at least mentally.
"Azia played really well. We've talked to her about slowing her moves down a little bit and keeping the ball high. She did both very well, and she made her free throws. She's got a chance to lead us to special places this year. She's just got to play that way all the time."
The balanced Spartans — who are on a mission to get back to their form of 2008-09, when they were 22-4 and Division I state runners-up — put all five of its scorers in double figures.
Junior third-year starter Jaymie Jackson had 13 points and eight rebounds, sophomore Dee Hicks had 11 points and seven boards, and senior guards Maleeka Kynard, a fourth-year starter, and Ariel Gaston added 10 points apiece for Start.
There was little drama in the game after the Spartans opened with a 13-0 run in the first 3:42 before the Presidents finally got on the board with 3:32 left in the first quarter on a bucket from University Michigan-bound Brenae Harris (18 points).
Gaston, who transferred to Start from Southview during the fall, ignited Start with back-to-back 3-pointers for an 8-0 lead, and after consecutive inside buckets from the Kentucky-bound Bishop, the Spartans led 17-2 with 2:34 still left in the quarter.
"My team has told me that I need to finish and make free throws," Bishop said, "because the last couple games have been pretty rough on me. I just focused and finished and got through it.
"We got off to a great start, and we need to keep doing that."
Ahead 19-6 entering the second quarter, Start pushed its lead to 30 points (38-8) on the second of the Ohio State-bound Kynard's two 3-pointers three minutes before halftime.
The Spartans, who hit 26 of their 57 field-goal attempts, extended their lead to 37 points (59-22) after three quarters and were never seriously challenged throughout by a Harding team that was hit hard by graduation following a 23-1 season last year.
The Presidents (3-6), who were outrebounded 44-29, were 16-of-55 from the field and 2-for-2 from the line in the game.
"Our last three games were Detroit Country Day, Notre Dame, and then Start is just a tremendous basketball team," Harding coach Greg Noftz said of his team's brutal recent schedule. "Bob's top seven are just unbelievable. That's a team that's going to go a long ways this year. Without question, that's a potential [state] final-four team for sure.
"Just to play in this arena was a great opportunity. We just wanted to come in here and play hard and be as competitive as we could be. Believe it or not, we could win our next 11 games."