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GC Girls Basketball: Rice takes first step in playoffs with 58-45 victory over West

Feb. 14—WAXAHACHIE — Rice's Lady Bulldogs opened the 3A playoffs Tuesday night with a rock solid performance in a 58-45 Bi-District victory over always-tough West in the Waxahachie High School gym.

The Lady Dawgs marched to the 3A Region III Finals a year ago before losing 47-43 to No. 1-ranked Fairfield, a step away from the state tournament in San Antonio, and returned to the court on a mission this season.

They went 21-6, including two losses to bigger, state-ranked schools in Arkansas in a Texarkana Holiday tournament and lost to only one Class 3A school in Texas.

The Rice "Get to San Antonio Tour Part II" has been insanely fun to watch this season, thanks in great part to All-American Saniya Burks, who can fill up gyms with fans (and the Rice fans are as loud and passionate as any in Texas) and fill up the basket.

Saniya, a senior who is in her last dance as a high school player, has scored more than 1,000 points this season and leads the nation with a 40.5 scoring average. Everyone in the gym knows she's getting the ball and heading for the basket and opponents double and triple team her — and at times have four or even five girls try to stop her.

Saniya paid a price every night in last season's playoff run as opponents used aggressive and physical defenses to try to stop her. There were nights when she hit the floor almost as much as she hit the net, burying shots with pretty, hold-your-breath drives and rainbow 3-pointers while fighting her way to get back up off the floor after being hammered.

Everyone knows what to expect and it's up to the UIL officials to protect her from getting hurt now that Rice is in the playoffs again.

"We know what kind of defenses to expect," said her father, Rice girls Coach Antonio Burks.

She's slim, so lithe and light, she leaves opponents shaking their heads when she slips and slides by them. She's as smooth as a Nat King Cole ballad (google it) and tougher than Honors Calculus. And when she gets knocked down (literally and figuratively) she always gets back up.

That's a nice metaphor for where the Rice Lady Dawgs are today, getting back up as a team to make another playoff run after leaving the court in tears a year ago.

Aaliyah Nezar, one of the top players in the Golden Circle, Chole Perry, KK Davis, Liviah Nezar, Sloan Cadene and Caylin Jessie are all ready to make a another run with Saniya after last season's oh-so-close drive ended in heartache.

Saniya, who scored personal record highs of 62 points and 75 points in a span of 10 days against a pair of district opponents this season, won't be looking to score — but she will be determined to win. That's even worse news for the rest of the teams in the playoffs.

She started off Tuesday, scoring 32 points, grabbing five rebounds, handing out six assists and making six steals against West. Aaliyah Nezar scored 11 points, and Perry had a nice game, dropping in nine points to go along with two rebounds and a pair of steals. Davis hit a 3-pointer and Jesse (2 points) and Liviah Nezar (1 point) scored for Rice.

Now it's on to the Area Round of the playoffs against a Lorena team that is loaded with talent and confidence after ripping through the schedule with a 28-6 record, including a 55-19 blowout win over Teague in the Bi-District round this week. Along the way Lorena earned a No. 14 ranking in the TABC state 3A poll that has the Rice girls ranked No. 20.

Yes, Lorena will be the favorite (according to the state poll) when the two powers meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in West (yes, there is some irony in that site).

Get there early ...