If there was an answer as to whether Drameka Griggs' swollen knee could stand the brunt of 32 minutes of basketball, let alone 32 seconds, it came right after the opening tipoff. Griggs materialized in front of a Brunswick pass on their first possession and flew down the court for an open layup.
That was the answer Jonesboro coach Jimmy Fields needed. He had wavered all weekend, leaving Griggs' status for Tuesday's game undetermined. Even as Griggs did drills separate from the Lady Cardinals before the game, testing her mobility under the watchful eye of assistant Leon Samuel, Fields told her playing time would be determined by the comfort she displayed and the production she provided.
"I said, 'I'll let you play and evaluate you, and if you're doing good, you stay in,'" Fields said. "'If I see you out there limping, of course I'm not going to jeopardize your career. I'll take you out.' And when I saw her speed past that girl and hit a layup, I said we're in business."
Indeed, the Lady Cardinals impressed last night, never trailing in its 67-47 victory over Brunswick to advance to play Hephzibah (22-7) in the Elite 8 at Fort Valley State Friday.
"I'm just proud of the girls," Fields said. "It's going to be a battle regardless of who we play. At this point, like I told the girls, everybody's good. So we got to step it up. But I'm just proud of my girls as a whole, and as a school and a community."
Jonesboro (29-1) entered the night cognizant of the game's magnitude. This would be its final game at home, with a chance to advance further in the postseason than this group had ever experienced. But there was also the issue of Griggs' knee, which she injured colliding with an opposing player in the third quarter of the Lady Cardinals' first-round victory Friday.
So she spent the weekend icing and heating her knee, applying any remedy to improve her condition by Tuesday.
"I didn't even know if I was going to start or not tonight," Griggs said. "I've been icing it, putting heat on it all day, everyday over the weekend. So actually I didn't know that I was going to start. Coming out, I worked on it during warm-ups, and I felt OK."
By the end of the first half, Griggs had 15 points and Jonesboro appeared in control. Griggs repeatedly knifed her way through the lane, in search of easy layups or Lady Pirates defenders to tempt into drawing fouls. She ran both Jonesboro's half-court and transition offense with equal effectiveness and finished with a game-high 26 points.
Joi Holyfield scored 14 points to go along with five assists and four steals.
Jonesboro didn't intend to entice Brunswick (23-4) into an up-tempo contest. The Lady Pirates were built upon the speed of its diminuitive guards, Takela Davis (15 points), Zandra Green (10 points) and Jessica Roberts, and athletic forward Tiffany Merritt (eight points, nine rebounds). They seemed capable of negating Jonesboro's transition offense with its own frenetic pace.
But throughout the night, Jonesboro's full-court press confounded Brunswick. The Lady Cardinals scored eight of its last 10 points of the first half off turnovers. Laquinta Gallashaw swiped a Brunswick pass and made an open layup to put Jonesboro up 39-29 in the third quarter. The Lady Cardinals finished with 14 steals overall, imposing its hectic pressure.
"I think the key tonight was once again our press," Fields said. "Honestly, I didn't think we could run on them, and I didn't think we'd get as many transition points as we did, but we did. That shows the mark of a good team."