By Brian Paglia
The one characteristic of Union Grove that will dictate its style of play the entire season is its lack of size. Wolverines coach Russ Atkins said his entire roster is a collection of guards. Some are only 5-foot-7. None are taller than 6-foot-4.
On Friday night at Woodland, the Wolverines' height disadvantage didn't matter. Union Grove attacked the basket and got Woodland's taller lineup in foul trouble, which helped produce a 57-51 win in a Region 3A-AAAA game and gave Union Grove sole possession of first place.
Charles Mann, the tallest Union Grove player at 6-foot-4, was the catalyst for the Wolverines (4-1, 3-0). After a frustrating first half -- he scored just four points -- Mann drove to the basket and got to the foul-line on two of Union Grove's first three possessions of the third quarter.
That set the tone. Mann's confidence returned and his full repertoire of pull-up 3s, driving floaters and swift lay-ups helped him lead Union Grove with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Jordan Nelson, Union Grove's next tallest player at 6-foot-3, added 17 points and seven rebounds, and Jaylan McClinton-Wise chipped in nine points.
"I just calmed down and played my game," Mann said. "I just trusted my teammates and went out there and played."
Union Grove had a 27-19 halftime deficit to overcome after a first half of forced shots and Woodland's Terrance Williams. The Wolfpack's 6-foot junior guard scored 15 of his game-high 20 points in the first half to overcome the absence of center A'Darius Porter (six points, six rebounds), who sat most of the first half after getting his second foul 2 minutes 16 seconds into the game and his third 1:50 into the second quarter.
"We had a bunch of kids in foul trouble in the first half," Woodland coach David Bice said. "We had two of our starters and some of our reserves. They did a good job with their offense."
With Woodland in foul trouble, Union Grove took advantage. Mann hit a deep 3 to give Union Grove a 31-29 lead in the third quarter, its first lead since early in the game. When Mann knifed into the lane, hit a lay-up and drew a foul for a three-point play, the Wolverines took a 45-38 lead with 6:01 left in the game.
A Woodland turnover later, McClinton-Wise made an athletic lay-up to add to the Wolverines lead.
"This is a great win," Atkins said. "Woodland is very well-coached. They're a very good basketball team. They've been very, very good here the last two years and I think the team Coach Bice has this year is very good.
"Anytime you can beat Woodland, it's a quality win, especially on the road."
Woodland girls 37, Union Grove 32
The Lady Wolfpack withstood a second-half surge by the Lady Wolverines to escape with a win Friday night and extend the team's best start in school history.
Woodland (7-0, 3-0) led by as much as 12 early in the second half, but Union Grove (3-2, 1-2) tied the game at 28-all in the fourth quarter on two free throws by Elliote Roberts.
But Ayana Lambert promptly made a quick transition lay-up and the Lady Wolfpack clamped down on defense and made several clutch free throws down the stretch to secure the win.
"That turned the tide right there at the end," Woodland coach Thomas McLaurin said.
Morgan Jones had a game-high 13 points for Woodland. Corrine White led Union Grove with 10 points.