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There’s little mystery left between the Collins and Shelby County girls’ basketball teams.
As the Titans and Rockets prepare for their ninth meeting in three seasons – in tonight’s 30th District Tournament semifinal (tip is set for 6) at Collins – it’s safe to assume that both teams and coaches know each other inside and out.
“He [Shelby County Coach Mike Sowers] probably knows more about my team than I do, and I probably know more about his team than he does,” Collins Coach Phillip Conder said. “They probably won’t change a lot of what they do, and we’re not going to change very much either.”
As evidenced by the previous eight meetings, the Titans (14-13) will try to push the pace, pressure the Rockets defensively, either full-court or in the half-court, and create offense with their defense.
Shelby County (16-13), meanwhile, will attempt to slow down the game and take advantage of its players’ height inside.
The only mystery that remains is which team will win tonight and earn the right to face the winner of Tuesday night’s game between Anderson and Spencer counties in Friday’s district final?
After Collins won the first six meetings between the two (by an average of 32.5 points per game), the Titans and Rockets split a pair this season.
Shelby County edged the host Titans, 38-37, back on Dec. 14. Sophomore forward Mackenzie Raizor hit one free throw with nine-tenths of a second left to give the Rockets their first victory in the series.
Four weeks later Collins returned the favor, beating the Rockets, 41-36, at Mike Casey Gymnasium. That night reserve guard K’Sha Stoner keyed a late, 10-2 run as the Titans avenged their earlier loss to Shelby County.
That sets up tonight’s winner-advances-to-the-region-tournament rubber match.
“I think this could be the best game [boys or girls] of the district tournament,” Conder said.
Conder’s Titans enter having won two of their past three games and four of their final six. They are led by senior forward Aaliyah Wells (19.9 ppg, 9.7 rpg) and freshman point guard Michelle Roberts (7.3 ppg).
Conder said his team’s big focus for tonight will be the backboards, after Shelby County outrebounded Collins in both previous meetings (37-23 in the first and 26-22 in the second).
“Rebounding killed us both games,” he said. “We’ve got to crash the boards and keep them off the boards.”
The Rockets, meanwhile, come in having won three of their past four games. Shelby County, which averages 47.2 points and allows 46.9 points per game, is led by Raizor (12.4 points, 6.7 rebounds per games) and freshman forward Justus Martin (9.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg).
“We need that slow pace,” Sowers said. “We don’t have to take the air out of the ball, but we need a game in the high thirties, low forties.”
Shelby’s other focal points, Sowers said, will be trying to keep Wells (who had 11 points in the first meeting and 17 in the second) in check and its turnovers down.
“We really need to lower our mistakes,” said Sowers, whose squad had 23 turnovers in the first meeting and 15 in the second. “Especially making mistakes at crucial moments.”
Two other intangibles that were big in the first two games this season, and could be key again tonight, are role players and loose balls.
In the first meeting Shelby County junior reserve forward Nikki Simmons hit a pair of key baskets late in the game to help the Rockets rally for the victory, and in the second matchup Stoner came off the bench to give the Titans a big boost in their game-deciding surge.
Then there are the hustle plays. Following his team’s loss to Shelby County in December, Conder estimated that the Rockets won the loose ball battle “eighty [percent to] twenty [percent].” The second time around, though, he estimated that percentage to be about “fifty-fifty.”
And that also might be the percentage that could be used to predict the winner of tonight’s game.
“It’s a game, that really could go either way,” Conder said.
Collins-Shelby County preview
Probable starting lineup:G – Michelle Roberts (7.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg), Skylar Clemens (3.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg); F – Aaliyah Wells (19.9 ppg, 9.7 rpg), Bailey Rankin (3.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg), Katie Vogel (4.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg).
Key reserves:F-C Jessie Buckmaster (3.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg); F Whitney Pullen (2.5 ppg); G K’Sha Stoner (1.6 ppg); G Mary Borders (1.6 ppg); G Chelsea Slaughter; F ShaiAnne Moorman; G Addie Smith; F Sydney Cloyd.
Shelby County (16-13)
Probable starting lineup:G – Katie Hudgens (6.7 ppg), Lynsey Nichols (2 ppg); F – Mackenzie Raizor (12.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Justus Martin (9.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Savannah Raizor (6.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg).
Key reserves:F Nikki Simmons (5.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G Jordan Holt (2.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg); F Jamie Bradley; F Madison Todd; F Jordan Rood; G Kelli Armstrong; F Kirstin Dugle.