February 20, 2014

Northwest girls aims for fast pace as tourney begins

By Chris Whitfield

— For the second straight year, the Northwest Whitfield High School girls basketball team lost in the Region 7-4A championship game to River Ridge. Now, they hope to break a repeat of 2013 by not falling in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament.

The Lady Bruins host Carrollton — the No. 3 seed from Region 5 — at 6 tonight in Tunnel Hill. In the only other girls state tournament game involving a local team, North Murray’s girls travels to East Hall in Gainesville for a 7 p.m. matchup in the Class 3A bracket.

Last season, Northwest lost to Marist by 25 points at home in the first round. Lady Bruins coach Greg Brown said he hopes his team remembers the lesson of the disappointment a year ago.

“I don’t think that anyone is dwelling on last year, but at the same time it is an experience that we can learn from and work not to see happen again,” Brown said. “This is a much different team, and I don’t think that we are preparing for this game any differently than we have for any other game.”

Brown is also not concerned about Wednesday night’s loss to River Ridge in the final seconds of the championship game at Cass High School. A traveling call on a 3-pointer that would have tied the game with 10 seconds left nullified the basket, and Northwest had to settle for a No. 2 seed after the 50-45 loss.

“I wouldn’t say that we had a hangover from the loss at practice,” Brown said Thursday evening. “We were a little tired, which is understandable, but they had a lot of spirit. We will have our legs back under us and be ready to go tonight. We just talked about that it was time to move on. We have been doing that all year. They had a good attitude and were upbeat and very excited about the opportunity to play at home in the playoffs.”

Northwest (23-4) faces a Carrollton team making its 12th state tournament appearance in 13 years. The Lady Trojans (22-6) lost to Fayette County in the semifinals of the region tournament but rebounded to beat Sandy Creek.

“They are a very good team with a lot of tradition, and they are not a typical (No. 3) seed,” Brown said. “They are very athletic. They play very physical, which is something that I think we have done a lot better job of this season. We have to do a good job on the boards and they go to the offensive glass very well.”

One thing that Northwest will try to do is keep the pace of play fast. Having used a trapping press and a deep bench effectively throughout the season, Brown said his team will have to do what it does best.

“We have to speed the game up,” Brown said. “We were at our best all year when we have been able to play fast and get the game at a fast speed, and that is what we are going to try to do against Carrollton.”

The winner of tonight’s game advances to face the winner of Region 6 champion Redan and Region 8 No. 4 seed Walnut Grove.

North Murray’s girls travel to face an East Hall team already on an impressive postseason run.

East Hall (14-14) entered the Region 7-3A tournament with a losing record and as the No. 6 seed in the eight-team region. But including a win over Fannin County in the regular-season finale — after trailing by double digits — the Lady Vikings reeled off four straight wins to earn the No. 2 spot from the region. During the tournament, East Hall beat Banks County — a 30-point winner over the Lady Vikings in the regular season — and second-seeded North Hall. East Hall lost to Buford 53-21 in the region championship game.

As the No. 3 seed from Region 5, North Murray (12-16) is facing a team similar to itself in that both teams seem to be playing much better than they were three weeks ago. North Murray entered the Region 5-3A tournament as the No. 4 seed.

North Murray has welcomed the full return of Erin Robinson in the post after she recovered from a knee injury that forced her to miss the first half of the season. Because of her absence in the middle, the rest of the lineup had to shift, playing positions that might not have been natural for them.

Now, Lady Mountaineers coach Keith Robinette said his team is finally hitting its stride.

“We were struggling three weeks ago,” Robinette said. “We had people get sick, Erin was still trying to get back to full speed, and it was tough. We have been trying to find our identity. Hopefully, we have it figured out. I have had a lot of fun the last two weeks. They have a little confidence going, and we have been in this position before.”

Last year, North Murray advanced to state as a No. 3 seed and traveled to Elbert County in the first round. The Lady Mountaineers lost in the waning seconds of that game, and Robinette has pressed upon his team that there is little difference between a No. 2 and No. 3 seed in the tournament.

“We were talking about don’t get caught up in the numbers and the seedings,” Robinette said. “All the seedings tell you is where you are going to be playing and who you are going to be playing. You never know what happens in the other region. Anyone can beat anyone else and we will have the opportunity.”