Hazel Green beats Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa, Will Play for 7th Straight AHSAA Girls Hoops Title

By Josh Bean | For the AHSAA

BIRMINGHAM – Hazel Green High School’s powerful girls’ basketball team ran into a speedbump on its highway to seven, but not a roadblock.

Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa (27-8), coached by Nick Browder, jumped out to a 16-4 lead and made five first-half 3-pointers to build a halftime lead against the six-time defending Class 6A champion Trojans in Wednesday’s state semifinals at the BJCC’s Legacy Arena.

Hazel Green (29-4) regrouped at halftime and turned up the defensive pressure in the second half to earn a 52-38 victory and keep its drive for a seventh straight state championship alive.

“It was not our best first half, but Hillcrest played really well in the first half,” Hazel Green coach Tim Miller said. “They really shot it well. It’s what a final four game is supposed to be like.”

What was the halftime message from Miller? “He was just saying the second half is our half and just to keep playing,” Hazel Green senior Leah Brooks said.

Hazel Green, playing in its 10th straight state semifinal, advances to Saturday’s championship game. Tip-off is set for Saturday at 12:30 p.m., against Huffman (24-8) or Park Crossing (29-1),

Hazel Green’s Leah Brooks (20) takes a shot as Hillcrest’s Sinaya Gibson (10) and Briyana Turner rush to defend in Wednesday’s 6A girls’ state tourney semifinals. (AHSAA PHOTO | David Holtsford)

which play later today in the other Class 6A state semifinal.

It will the Trojans’ eight straight trip to the championship game, having lost to Homewood in 2017 before reeling off an AHSAA-record six straight state titles.

Zyriah Price and Kristen Johnson led Hazel Green with 13 points apiece, and Brooks, an Alabama signee, added 12 points, 14 rebounds and three assists.

Jareah Branch paced Hillcrest with 15 points, 12 coming on four 3-pointers, and Blakeley Nixon added eight points, six rebounds and three assists.

Hazel Green extended its perimeter defense in the second half to take away Hillcrest’s effective 3-point shooting, leading to the Trojans taking their first lead, at 24-23 on Price’s only 3-point goal midway through the third quarter. Johnson’s 3-pointer with 6:11 remaining gave the Trojans a four-point lead at 36-32. Hazel Green ended the game on a 19-7 run.

Click here to check out schedules and scores from the 2024 AHSAA State Basketball Finals. 

“We got a little lax defensively (in the second half) and I really think that was the difference,” Browder said. “You’ve got to tip your hat to Hazel Green for making adjustments.”

Play resumes Wednesday with Classes 6A’s remaining semifinal contests, followed by 5A in the second session. Class 7A plays its semifinal games Thursday.

Championship games will begin Thursday in Class 1A. Finals for Classes 2A, 3A and 4A will be Friday, and Classes 5A, 6A and 7A close out the 2024 state tourney on Saturday.

All semifinal games are being live streamed over the NFHS Network’s subscriber-based platform and live on the AHSAA TV Network. All 14 state championship games will be aired live over the Alabama Public Television Network and live streamed over the NFHS Network.

Cover Photo: Hazel Green’s Zyriah Price (15) scores 13 points and clears six rebounds in the Trojans’Class 6A semifinal win at the BJCC Legacy Arena Wednesday. (AHSAA PHOTO | David Holtsford)

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