LOOGOOTEE — A year ago, Barr-Reeve and North Daviess' girls basketball teams played one of the best games in the Class A Sectional 63. Barr-Reeve squeaked out a close victory and tonight the two teams will rekindle the rivalry.
The Vikings (16-3) and Cougars (16-4) will do battle in the second game of the sectional at Jack Butcher Arena in Loogootee with a spot in the sectional championship on the line. The Buggy Bowl rematch will follow the first game of the night between Vincennes Rivet and Shoals at 6 p.m.
In last year's first round sectional at Kavanaugh Kourt, Sabra Smith and Meghan Knepp connected on 10 3-pointers and combined for 46 of the Cougars' 50 points, but it wasn't enough. The Vikings prevailed with a two-point victory, but lost to Rivet in the sectional championship. The loss has burned deep for Smith and Knepp since that February night, 12 months ago.
"We came up short last time and that left a taste in their mouth, that they have been working through the spring, summer and the whole season to get back to this point," said North Daviess coach Ron Knepp. "Now they are here and they want to use that experience and get rid of that feeling from last year."
North Daviess lost the Buggy Bowl matchup at the Cougar Den, 44-38 on Dec. 21. With the emotion surrounding the sectional rematch, North Daviess will be smart to not come out with too much emotion for the highly anticipated semifinal in the historic Loogootee gym, named for the winningest high school basketball coach in the state.
"The game can definitely be lost in the first quarter," Knepp said. "You can't let them run out to a 6-0, 8-0, or 10-0 quarter, you just can't do that. You have to be composed when you come out on the floor and you have to stay with them early and give yourself a chance in the fourth quarter — that's what we want to do. We want to stay within striking distance. We aren't the favorite here, we're the underdog. We are the team nobody expects to win. Nobody gives us a chance to win this game — we aren't in any percentages to be in the final game and have a chance to win the sectional."
At this time last year, Barr-Reeve was hanging on with a thread with many of its key players battling injuries. Hannah Bullock was hampered by injuries throughout the 2012-13 season and Tiara Kenney also wasn't healthy heading into the North Daviess sectional game. This time around, the Vikings have no such concerns. Bullock (7.1 points, 3.8 assists and 2.8 steals) and Kenney (9 points and 5.3 rebounds) will be in the starting lineup.
A big addition to the Viking roster has been guard Olivia Carroll (11.1 points, 4 rebounds and 2.1 assists), which has allowed Jenna Knepp (13.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists) to relinquish some of the ball handling duties, thus keeping opposing defense's on their heels.
"Having a primary second ball handler besides Jenna Knepp takes the pressure off her a little bit," said Barr-Reeve coach Mark Holt. "Last year she had the ball in her hands, 85-90 percent of the time and she doesn't always have to be that play maker with Olivia on board now. We can get Jenna off the ball more and work her off some screens. We have to pretty good point guards now and Hannah Bullock is a pretty good ball handler as well, so we have three pretty good ball handlers. We have faced teams that like to press us full court or as North Daviess likes to do and extend their zone defense out pretty far in the half court. It gives us three good perimeter players, who can either make plays off the dribble or off the pass."
When preparing for North Daviess, Holt knows you have to prepare for the vaunted zone defense the Cougars have mastered over the past two seasons. North Daviess allowed just 30.5 points per game this season, which ranked third in the state. Steadily over past few seasons under Knepp's coaching, the Cougars have become more explosive offensively. That offensive explosion begins with the sharp shooting of Smith (13 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals) and Meghan Knepp (13 points, 3 rebounds and 3.7 steals).
"Over the past few games of practice, those two have been a point of emphasis," Holt said. "We have to make sure we stay in front of those girls and give them too much space. You can't stray to far from the help positions when guarding those two, because both lit us up in the sectional last year. Their supporting cast has gotten better and better as well, so it's not like you can just lock those two up and hope to survive. They have five girls on the floor, who are capable of pretty good scoring nights."
North Daviess won 15 of its first 17 games to start the season, with the two defeats coming to Barr-Reeve and Washington (3A). The Cougars stumbled at the end of the regular season in losing two of their final three games to Wood Memorial and Springs Valley. Knepp admitted that everyone wants to enter postseason play with momentum, but he feels confident in what his team can do Friday night.
"We have to start from Friday night to start building momentum," Knepp said. "I'm not concerned, because (Class A No. 3) Attica was 20-0 going into its sectional and lost the first game. When you end the regular season, you end that season. Sectional is a different season. It is survive and advance. Momentum is nice to have, but you can build momentum in a game."