Wesleyan head basketball coach Jan Azar
NORCROSS -- Jan Azar's fledgling Wesleyan girls basketball program lost its first six games against Greater Atlanta Christian, which had set the early standard in statewide success for Gwinnett schools.
But the Wolves -- seeking a record-tying sixth straight state title and 10th overall this season -- haven't lost many games since to anyone, including GAC.
Azar recorded her 400th victory Tuesday night as Wesleyan pulled away in the second half to defeat the visiting Spartans 60-49 in a Region 6-AA showdown at Yancey Gymnasium.
Although Azar, who has a 400-85 record, received a bouquet of flowers and the game ball afterward, she tried to play down the milestone.
"I wasn't even thinking about 400, to be honest," the coach said. "I was focused on winning this game and staying unbeaten in the region."
The Wesleyan players, though, knew there was something extra riding on the game.
"We didn't tell her we knew, but we did," senior Katie Frerking said. "We respect her so much and not many coaches get to 400 wins. It's a big deal and we wanted to make sure we got it for her."
Frerking, who signed with Auburn, had 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists, but it was the Wesleyan bench that was the difference against depth-challenged GAC.
The Wesleyan reserves had a 22-0 edge and the Wolves did it without getting a significant contribution from Nikki McDonald, who had scored 22 points in a 74-63 victory at GAC on Jan. 11.
Freshman guard Cairo Booker was the key player off the bench, scoring nine points while handling the ball well and playing aggressive defense.
"She gave us a great lift," Azar said. "I think she was the difference- maker in our press."
Booker's 3-point play capped an 11-0 run that turned a 28-26 deficit on Cosette Mahre's 3-pointer to start the third quarter into a 37-28 lead. The edge was 47-39 when Brittany Stevens hit a 3-pointer to close the quarter and the Wolves led 54-43 midway in the final period before GAC made a late run.
A basket by Sydni Means cut the Wesleyan lead to 55-49 with just under two minutes to play. But Frerking scored a basket and the Wolves went 3-for-4 at the foul line in the final minute to pull away.
Wesleyan, which is 19-6 against GAC since those six early losses, got nine points, five assists and five steals from Samford signee Stevens. Towson recruit Paige Mosley had eight points and 12 rebounds.
With the victory, Wesleyan improved to 6-0 in Region 6-AA and 19-4 overall. GAC is 16-6 overall and 4-2 in the region.
GAC's Brianna Cummings scored a game-high 22 points and also contributed seven rebounds and five blocked shots. Means had 11 points, six assists and five steals, while Mahre scored 10 points and CiCi Buford pulled down eight rebounds.
Beating the Wesleyan press for a couple of easy baskets, GAC jumped to a 12-5 lead. But the Wolves scored six straight points to close to within a point at the end of the first quarter.
A 3-pointer by Frerking put Wesleyan up 24-20 in the second quarter and, after GAC went on a 5-0 run, she hit two free throws with 14 seconds left to give the Wolves a 26-25 halftime lead.
Frerking had 10 first-half points, seven coming in the second quarter. Cummings scored nine points in the second quarter for GAC and had 11 at intermission.
Wesleyan didn't make any changes in its press for the second half, but just executed it better.
"We asked the girls if they could do it right and they said that they could," Azar said.
The results were there for everyone to see.
Wesleyan and GAC are likely to meet again in the Region 6-AA tournament two weeks from now. But regular-season supremacy belongs to the Wolves.
GAC boys 62, Wesleyan 22
With Georgia coach Mark Fox watching, 6-foot-7 junior Isaiah Wilkins had 12 points and nine rebounds as the Greater Atlanta Christian boys coasted to a 62-22 victory over Wesleyan.
Collin Swinton led the Spartans (20-3 overall, 6-0 Region 6-AA) with 14 points. Cam Boyd scored 11 and Troy Morrison had 10 points to go with seven assists.
Will Clifton scored 12 points for Wesleyan (9-13, 2-4).
GAC expanded a 13-5 lead after the first quarter to 24-10 at halftime and 41-15 going into the fourth quarter with a strong defensive effort.