The regular season is over, and now the real games begin.
The Indiana boys' basketball state tournament gets underway tonight. The Class A Sectional 63 will see Washington Catholic, Barr-Reeve and host Loogootee hitting the court in the first round.
All four teams taking the court on the first night are members of the Blue Chip conference. The first game this evening at Jack Butcher Arena will see defending state champions Loogootee (16-5) hosting Vincennes Rivet (4-17) at
6 p.m. The Lions defeated Rivet 70-44 on Dec. 1.
Loogootee won 18 of its first 20 games, and looked every bit like the team that won its first state championship a year ago. The Lions didn't play their best basketball down the stretch, losing three of the final five games of the regular season. Despite that stretch, coach Mike Wagoner believes his team is in the right place heading into the postseason.
"Even though we've had trouble scoring some points lately, our sole focus right now is on the sectional," Wagoner said. "I really do think the last two, since the sectional draw came out (Feb. 17) - everyone's focus player-wise has waned. That's easy to do when you're 16 or 17 years old.
It's not an excuse, but I think they thought about sectional and forgot about those regular season games as far as preparing for them." If the Lions are to get through the sectional for the second straight year with a championship, they will have to win three games in five nights.
Wagoner feels confident in the focus his team will bring as they know full well what it takes to win a state championship, with almost the entire
2011-12 team still intact this time around.
"If we're lucky enough to get to Saturday night, we have the experienced players, who have been in front of that kind of crowd," Wagoner said. "They have been in that kind of stressful game, and we won't get rattled." The second game will also be a rematch of a Blue Chip regular season meeting. Barr-Reeve (20-1) will host Washington Catholic (2-20) at 7:30 p.m.
The Vikings defeated the Cardinals 58-27 Jan. 8 at the Bird Cage.
The Vikings enter the sectional riding an eight-game winning streak since suffering their only loss of the season, 50-47, Jan. 12 at home to Loogootee. Coming into the season, coach Bryan Hughes wasn't quite sure what his rotation would look like, but when things came together, the Vikings had a formidable attack on both sides of the ball.
"I think we've had a great year," Hughes said. "I sure didn't expect this team possibly winning 20 games in the regular season. We're happy with where we are, but we also understand that it¹s that time of year, where there are no second chances. You have to play with a sense of urgency, you win to play again." On the other end, Washington Catholic struggled in its first season under coach John Howell in his second time around with the Cardinals. Throughout the season, Howell has reiterated that he feels his team is making strides and improvements that haven¹t shown up in the Cardinals' win-loss column.
"Throughout the year we had a lot of positives, but certain things just hampered us," Howell said. "It seemed like every game we would go through a four-six minute span where we played very badly, but then the rest of the game we played very well. We turned the ball over quite a bit in those stretches." Washington Catholic will enter tonight's matchup having lost 11 in a row. If the Cardinals are going to pull the upset, they have to be more efficient on the offensive end.
"There was a stretch where we played four games, and each of the four games we only hit one shot outside of ten feet," Howell said. "When you're not shooting the ball well, it's hard to compete. I think we're past that. We've put up a few points the last couple games." With the first matchup going to the Vikings by 31 points on the road, but the win coming nearly two months ago, Hughes said he doesn't put much stock in that game. The Vikings will need to come with a focused effort if they are to move on to play Shoals Friday night.
"I don't think you can take anything from any previous matchup when you get to tournament time," Hughes said. "You have to be the best team on the floor that particular night. I think it just comes down to the fact that this game is not that difficult. It gets down to fundamental things like taking care of the ball, rebounding and you got to make shots."