Three things to watch at the Missouri Class 5 boys and girls state basketball tournaments in Columbia:
▪ 1. Prepare for points
When he describes the characteristics of his team, Lee’s Summit coach Blake Little points out, “We don’t win games getting off the bus.”
There’s some truth to the analogy. The Tigers are undersized against almost every opponent.
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But therein lies the essence of the undefeated team.
Constant ball pressure allows Lee’s Summit to control the tempo of the game. It also creates more possessions for a dynamic offense that features four players averaging double figures. Senior point guard Blake Spellman is leading the bunch at 18.7 points per game this season. As a team, Lee’s Summit scores 76.2 points per game.
That number could actually increase after Thursday’s Missouri Class 5 semifinals. Lee’s Summit, 29-0, will play Springfield Kickapoo, 28-2, at 8:30 p.m. at Mizzou Arena, a matchup that features like-minded teams.
Lee’s Summit defeated Kickapoo 91-84 last season.
“I think it will be the most fast-paced game we’ve played all year,” Lee’s Summit senior Oliver Edwards said. “Last year’s game was a blur. I can only imagine what it will be like this year.”
▪ 2. Liberty bounces back
In a seven-day stretch in January, the Liberty girls basketball team tripled its season-loss total. Afterwards, coach Noah Simpson chalked it up to an unforeseen obstacle.
“I felt like we learned that it was harder to get to the Final Four this year because last year nobody really expected it,” Simpson said. “This year, there were all kinds of expectations.”
And yet, here they are again. For the second straight year, the Blue Jays, 26-3, advanced to Columbia. They will face Springfield Kickapoo, 27-3, in the semifinals at 5:10 p.m. Thursday at Mizzou Arena.
After that two-game skid in late January, Liberty has won 11 straight games. Senior Morgan Fleming, who broke the school’s all-time scoring record Saturday, is scoring 18.7 points per game.
▪ 3. A loaded field
The Missouri Class 5 boys semifinals includes three teams — Lee’s Summit, Chaminade and Kickapoo — who are undefeated against in-state opponents this season.
Chaminade, 25-5, enters the Final Four as the state’s top-ranked team. With good reason: Jayson Tatum.
Tatum, the No. 2-ranked senior in the country on ESPN.com, is averaging 29.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. He is heading off to Duke.
Chaminade plays St. Louis University High, 20-9, at 6:50 p.m. Thursday.