Today through Saturday at Mizzou Arena in Columbia
1 Is the fifth time the charm?
A couple of days ago, a group of Blue Springs High School seniors joked with one another that it’s their turn to return the favor. In what capacity? Well, two years ago, the Wildcats defeated Incarnate Word Academy in the regular season before losing to the same team in the Class 5 girls championship game. Then again last season, the Wildcats defeated Rock Bridge in the regular season before falling to the Bruins in the championship. Blue Springs is hopeful history can repeat itself in 2013. Rock Bridge dealt Blue Springs a 64-32 loss on Dec. 2. In its fifth consecutive trip to Columbia, Blue Springs has an opportunity to return the favor when it faces Rock Bridge at 8:20 p.m. Friday. Blue Springs has finished second at the state tournament each of the past four seasons. The squad is led by seniors Lizzy Wendell (19 points per game), Karyla Middlebrook and Tyra Bickham. Recently, those reliable three players have been aided by the sharpshooting of Aliyah Lee off the bench.
2 The press is on
Regardless of its outcome, a Class 5 semifinals boys matchup between Rockhurst and Columbia Hickman (5 p.m. Friday) may be the most exciting game to watch this weekend. Both teams prefer track-meet styles and will use defense to press the issue. Hickman runs a full-court swarming trap, and the Hawklets’ ability to maneuver their way through that first line of defense may be the key to the game. Rockhurst has plenty of senior guards who take care of the ball — including Connor Kuhlmann and Bradley Wilkins — and it has the luxury of post players who are also equipped to dribble through pressure. Once again, the Hawklets, 23-5, will look to feed star player Kyle Wolf, a 6-5 post player whose ability to score from anywhere on the floor has opened up the offense for his teammates.
3 Will defense prevail?
A common thread ties together the last three Smithville girls basketball teams — all of which have reached the Class 4 state tournament. That thread, coach Trevor Mosby says, is defense. And that’s why the Warriors are still playing tonight, when they will meet Webb City at 8:30. Well, that and Maddie Nelson. A senior point guard, Nelson’s buzzer-beater against Notre Dame de Sion has landed Smithville back in the Class 4 semifinals. Smithville finished second each of the past two seasons.
4 Whose to lose?
Perhaps no bracket is truly as wide open as the Class 4 boys division. That spells good news for Liberty North, the only team among the four semifinalists that reached this stage last year. The Eagles, 22-5, already bumped the state’s top-ranked team, St. Joseph Lafayette, from the playoffs in the sectional round. One round later, the Eagles put together their most complete effort of the season, according to coach Chris McCabe. They will face Republic at 5:10 p.m. today. Seniors Jake Hanson and Nadhir Daughtery have played in every game in the school’s history and are looking to cap their careers with a state championship.
5 And then there was one
Only one team will take an undefeated record into Mizzou Arena this weekend. St. Louis Incarnate Word Academy is 29-0 and will meet Dexter in the Class 4 girls semifinals at 6:50 tonight. The Red Knights will showcase arguably the state’s best prospect in the form of sophomore Napheesa Collier, who averages 25 points and 11 rebounds per game. Collier is rated as a four-star prospect with an ESPN recruiting grade of 93.
| Sam McDowell, firstname.lastname@example.org