Century left the Legacy High School gym with its perfect record intact Tuesday night, but the Patriots had to fight for it.
Down 10-0 early and 28-26 at halftime, a 12-2 start to the second half proved to be the difference for the top-ranked team in the state in a hard-fought 49-44 win over the Sabers.
"Jim (Petrik) has them playing great right now," Century coach Ron Metz said of the Sabers, who won at No. 2-ranked Mandan last week. "To go on the road and beat Mandan, that's huge. We fully expected a very tough game tonight and that's what we got."
Another monster performance from Lauren Ware, on both ends of the floor, powered the Patriots. The 6-foot-4 sophomore star piled up 21 points, 17 rebounds, four blocked shots, one steal and sank a pair of 3-balls.
"We knew this was how it was going to be. Legacy's been playing great and they're a very tough team," Ware said. "We're getting late in the season now where you're playing teams for a second time. Every team has improved and is different, so for us we just have to try and execute our game plan and make sure we bring great effort and energy."
The Sabers overcame a sluggish start to the second half to give themselves a chance late. Legacy didn't get its first bucket until the 11:44 mark of the second half. Still, when Alexis Dressler swished home a deep 3-pointer it made it 47-44 with 75 seconds to play.
"I loved our kids' intensity," Petrik said. "We talked about being the aggressor and trying to go at (Century). We did that really well in the first half. We struggled in the second half, but we gave ourselves a chance at the end."
Still up just three, Megan Anderson delivered a pair of clutch free throws with 27 seconds left for a little breathing room for Century.
Both teams struggled to crack the other's defense. Century shot 25 percent, while the Sabers were held to a 27 percent clip.
"Some nights the ball just doesn't go in," Metz said. "We got some good looks. I don't know how many of Lilly's (Keplin) rattled in and out. Lauren had a few that had bad bounces and didn't go in.
"But on those nights when the shots aren't falling, where's your defensive effort going to be? We talk about that a lot. Tonight, that effort showed up in a big way."
The Sabers (9-10) started fast.
Whitney Thomas' early 3-pointer made it 6-0. Later, Ashley Hulm went coast-to-coast to make it 10-0. But the Patriots, now 18-0, never panicked.
"We were a little rattled at the start, but it's a long game and we know that," Ware said. "We just needed to settle down and get back to executing the game plan.
"You have to give Legacy credit. They played hard. You don't come in to games like this and just think it's going to be easy. We had to work for it and that's how it is in postseason basketball."
Hulm, a junior, topped the Sabers with 13 points and eight rebounds. Thomas added 10 points and also grabbed eight boards.
Petrik, understandably, said there were plenty of positives to build on.
"When you're playing the No. 1 team in the state you pretty much have to play flawless, and we didn't do that tonight," he said. "But we gave ourselves opportunities. We were right there at the end of the game.
"I really credit our kids. Right now, they're playing with the right attitude and really good effort. If we can continue to do that, I think we'll have a chance to be successful down the stretch."