Archive for March, 2008

25 years of the Sweet Sixteen

Everyone who is hooked on the Sweet Sixteen can trace their interest to one person or one event that triggered their addiction to Kentucky’s greatest sporting event. For me, it was Dr. Russell Bowen.

I thought of Dr. Bowen last week when I realized this was my silver anniversary at the Sweet Sixteen. And yes, that made me realize I’m getting old in a hurry, but it also made me realize how much good basketball I’ve watched over the last 25 years, and how grateful I am to him for making that possible.

Bowen was the principal at Jackson County in 1984, my senior year. Many of us liked him, and he liked many of us, enough so that he ordered something like 10 tickets to the state tournament and offered several of them to those of us affiliated with the boys and girls basketball teams.

Most who were offered the tickets made the trip just one day, but I managed to horn my way in on the guest list for all four days. I spent a total of 12 hours on the road over those four days, ate way too many meals at the Richmond Road Arby’s and saw teams that I had previously only read about in the newspaper, teams like Madisonville and Owensboro, Ballard and Boyd County.

I had been in Rupp Arena only once before that for a Kentucky game, but by week’s end it felt like my second home. I saw Logan County win three games by a total of seven points to reach the final, where it would beat a Bourbon County team that had won twice in overtime and once by one point in regulation. And I was a fan for life.
I haven’t seen every Sweet Sixteen game in the last 25 years, but I have been there every year and figure I have seen well over 300 of them. There have been more great plays, great players and great moments than I can remember. Among my favorite memories:

  • The performance that stands out as the best to most tourney fans of my generation, Richie Farmer’s 51-point effort for Clay County in a loss to Allan Houston and Ballard in the 1988 title game. It was the second straight final between the two powers — Clay won in 1987.
  • The run of Wayne County’s 1989 team, led by the inside-outside combination of Jimmy John Owens and Julius Green, to the title game and a narrow loss to Pleasure Ridge Park.
  • The surreal surroundings of the 1992 title game between University Heights and Lexington Catholic, where most of the few thousand fans in Freedom Hall were more interested in following the Kentucky-Duke NCAA tournament game than the action on the floor.
  • The 1993 championship run of Marion County and its coach, Tim Davis, whom I had gotten to know a couple of years earlier in my first months on this job.
  • Paintsville’s success behind Todd Tackett and J.R. VanHoose in 1996, helping to preserve the tournament by renewing the belief that small schools can still win it.
  • The teams that came close, like Hazard in 1986, Tates Creek in 1991, Ashland Blazer in 1996, Harlan in 1995 and Paducah Tilghman in 2002.
  • The players, stars and role players alike, who start a highlight reel in my head when I hear their names, like Fred Tisdale, Rex Chapman, Felton Spencer, Russ Chadwell, Jack Jennings, Jermaine Brown, DeJuan Wheat, Darren Allaway, Andy Penick, Patrick Critchelow, Rick Jones, Casey Alsop, Derek Smith, Antwain Barbour, Patrick Sparks, Orlandus Hill, Chris Lofton, Demetrius Green, O.J. Mayo, Lonnell Dewalt, Ty Proffitt, A.J. Slaughter and Arrez Henderson.
  • And the local teams that got there, even though their stays were almost always brief, from the improbable Casey County team of 1993 to the Mercer County team that made it with a losing record in 2000 to the Harrodsburg team that managed a first-round win in 1996 to the Boyle County and Lincoln County teams that made back-to-back appearances (Boyle in 1998 and ’99, Lincoln in 2007 and ’08).

The people are part of the fun, too, whether you’re meeting friends for dinner or just getting a text message from across the arena. Thanks to the Sweet Sixteen, I knew Don Irvine long before I ever covered his games, I see old acquaintances year after year and I’ve gotten to know more good people than I can count, from the folks working in the press room to the guys who launch T-shirts into the stands.

Twenty-five years is nothing compared to the state tournament history of some folks I know, but I’ll keep going back as long as I’m able and adding to my list of memorable moments and people worth knowing.

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Lincoln's wrong-way repeat

Teams that make it to the Boys Sweet Sixteen in consecutive years shouldn’t get the jitters the second time around, but it could be that Lincoln County did just that Thursday in its 70-58 loss to Shelby County in the first round.

Just like last year, when the Patriots lost a first-round game to Adair County, their shooters were ice cold right from the start of the game. In 2007, their first three jump shots came up short and they went on to shoot 35 percent from the field. In 2008, they couldn’t connect from 3-point range, where they were 0-for-their first 9, 1-for-13 in the first half and 3-for-18 through the first three quarters.

There was good defense by Shelby, to be sure, but Lincoln didn’t lack for good looks, either. And as coach Jeff Jackson pointed out after the game, those missed shots had a negative effect on everythine else the Patriots did, from defense to rebounding.

Lincoln was similarly ineffective from 3-point range in its state tournament game last season, hitting only two of 13 long-range attempts against Adair. But the Patriots were better able to work in the interior in that game than in this one.

Maybe it wasn’t a case of nerves. Maybe it was just a bad night. But the end result was that Lincoln’s loss to Shelby this year looked a lot like its loss to Adair last year.

* * *

Practice clearly does not make perfect, because Jackson said Lincoln’s seven days of practice since winning the 12th Region Tournament on March 11 couldn’t have been much better. He said the workouts were short — usually only about 1 hour, 10 minutes — but he said the players were focused and worked hard day after day right up to their final practice Wednesday at Transylvania University.

“We had a great (seven) days of practice. We practiced as well as we had all year long,” Jackson said. “But our energy level wasn’t good today. It just didn’t carry over.”

Young echoed those thoughts.

“I felt confident coming in here today. We had great practices this week,” he said.

* * *

Some statistical nuggets from the game:

  • The Patriots scored 27 of their 58 points on 3-point goals, in large part because they hit five 3s in the final 2:54 after Shelby had put the game out of reach.
  • Lincoln entered the game averaging 29 rebounds on the season but got only 15 against Shelby, which surely must have been its season low, and was outrebounded by 23. Last year, Adair outrebounded the Patriots 29-23.
  • Lincoln’s three senior leaders — Noah Keeton, Daniel Ralston and Ryan Young — took 38 of its 50 field-goal attempts and scored 44 of its 58 points. They combined to go 7-for-22 from 3-point range and 15-for-38 overall from the field.
  • The Patriots committed only nine turnovers, three fewer than Shelby. They also had eight steals, with six different players getting at least one.
  • Only six players scored for Lincoln, including junior guard Cody Willis, the only Patriot to get a basket after Jackson began emptying his bench late in the game.
  • Measured by scoring margin, this was the worst defeat of the season for the Patriots (see season scores), who lost by six points to Bryan Station, by three to Henry Clay, by six to Paintsville, by nine to McCreary Central and by eight to Paul Dunbar. Their score was 10.5 points below their season average.
  • The attendance for the Lincoln-Shelby game and the Hazard-South Laurel game that preceded it was 14,386, the second-largest crowd of the three first-round sessions — but almost 1,900 fans below the crowd that watched Lincoln’s first-round session last year, which included Adair, Scott County and Oldham County. And Lincoln brought the largest fan base seen to that point; its fan support was rivaled only by that of Mason County, which played in the Thursday night session that drew 15,040 fans.

For a box score from Thursday’s game, click here. For the play-by-play chart, click here. For the archived webcast from WPBK-FM/wpbkfm.com, click here.

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    Lincoln’s wrong-way repeat

    Teams that make it to the Boys Sweet Sixteen in consecutive years shouldn’t get the jitters the second time around, but it could be that Lincoln County did just that Thursday in its 70-58 loss to Shelby County in the first round.

    Just like last year, when the Patriots lost a first-round game to Adair County, their shooters were ice cold right from the start of the game. In 2007, their first three jump shots came up short and they went on to shoot 35 percent from the field. In 2008, they couldn’t connect from 3-point range, where they were 0-for-their first 9, 1-for-13 in the first half and 3-for-18 through the first three quarters.

    There was good defense by Shelby, to be sure, but Lincoln didn’t lack for good looks, either. And as coach Jeff Jackson pointed out after the game, those missed shots had a negative effect on everythine else the Patriots did, from defense to rebounding.

    Lincoln was similarly ineffective from 3-point range in its state tournament game last season, hitting only two of 13 long-range attempts against Adair. But the Patriots were better able to work in the interior in that game than in this one.

    Maybe it wasn’t a case of nerves. Maybe it was just a bad night. But the end result was that Lincoln’s loss to Shelby this year looked a lot like its loss to Adair last year.

    * * *

    Practice clearly does not make perfect, because Jackson said Lincoln’s seven days of practice since winning the 12th Region Tournament on March 11 couldn’t have been much better. He said the workouts were short — usually only about 1 hour, 10 minutes — but he said the players were focused and worked hard day after day right up to their final practice Wednesday at Transylvania University.

    “We had a great (seven) days of practice. We practiced as well as we had all year long,” Jackson said. “But our energy level wasn’t good today. It just didn’t carry over.”

    Young echoed those thoughts.

    “I felt confident coming in here today. We had great practices this week,” he said.

    * * *

    Some statistical nuggets from the game:

    • The Patriots scored 27 of their 58 points on 3-point goals, in large part because they hit five 3s in the final 2:54 after Shelby had put the game out of reach.
    • Lincoln entered the game averaging 29 rebounds on the season but got only 15 against Shelby, which surely must have been its season low, and was outrebounded by 23. Last year, Adair outrebounded the Patriots 29-23.
    • Lincoln’s three senior leaders — Noah Keeton, Daniel Ralston and Ryan Young — took 38 of its 50 field-goal attempts and scored 44 of its 58 points. They combined to go 7-for-22 from 3-point range and 15-for-38 overall from the field.
    • The Patriots committed only nine turnovers, three fewer than Shelby. They also had eight steals, with six different players getting at least one.
    • Only six players scored for Lincoln, including junior guard Cody Willis, the only Patriot to get a basket after Jackson began emptying his bench late in the game.
    • Measured by scoring margin, this was the worst defeat of the season for the Patriots (see season scores), who lost by six points to Bryan Station, by three to Henry Clay, by six to Paintsville, by nine to McCreary Central and by eight to Paul Dunbar. Their score was 10.5 points below their season average.
    • The attendance for the Lincoln-Shelby game and the Hazard-South Laurel game that preceded it was 14,386, the second-largest crowd of the three first-round sessions — but almost 1,900 fans below the crowd that watched Lincoln’s first-round session last year, which included Adair, Scott County and Oldham County. And Lincoln brought the largest fan base seen to that point; its fan support was rivaled only by that of Mason County, which played in the Thursday night session that drew 15,040 fans.

    For a box score from Thursday’s game, click here. For the play-by-play chart, click here. For the archived webcast from WPBK-FM/wpbkfm.com, click here.

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      Denney joins Stanford in Court of Honor

      A item in a Tuesday post mentioned former Casey County coach Jack Stanford’s induction into the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches’ Court of Honor on Friday at the Boys Sweet Sixteen. Stanford, who also coached at Breathitt County, will represent the 14th Region.

      But we now know that the 12th Region’s representative in this year’s Court of Honor class is Roscoe Denney, the former Danville coach who is currently seated on the South Laurel bench for its game against Hazard.

      Denney, now an assistant to Steve Wright at South Laurel, was the last coach to lead Danville to the state tournament when the Admirals won the regional title in 1990. He also led a Breathitt team to the state tourney during his tenure there, and he has also served as head coach at Garrard County — yes, he was the coach there for less than two weeks one summer, though folks in Lancaster would like to forget that — McCreary Central and Ballard Memorial.

      Congratulations to Denney and Stanford for this honor.

      * * *

      The over-the-air and online broadcast of today’s Lincoln County-Shelby County game on WPBK-FM (102.9) begins with pregame coverage at 1 p.m.

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      On the eve of the Sweet Sixteen

      The good news for Lincoln County is that the Patriots don’t have to tip off the Boys Sweet Sixteen today, as they did last year when they lost to Adair County in the first game of the tournament. That’s never a good thing for a team that hasn’t been there before, because teams don’t get to practice at Rupp Arena, but the teams that play later games at least have a little time to get the feel of the building before their game.

      The conventional wisdom says this is one of the better draws for the 12th Region in a few years (although last year’s draw didn’t look too bad, either). Some are saying that Lincoln has a halfway decent chance of making it through to Saturday morning’s semifinals if it can get past Shelby County in its first-round game Thursday afternoon. (The Lincoln-Shelby winner plays South Laurel or Hazard on Friday night.)

      I say don’t count those chickens just yet. Yes, Lincoln can beat Shelby. I believe this is a better Lincoln team in many ways than last year, and I believe it will be better for having had last year’s state tourney experience. But Shelby can beat Lincoln just as easily. The Rockets have size that Lincoln doesn’t and an impressive leader in Coty Minnis. To me, this looks like a 50-50 game, and the quarterfinal game that Lincoln or Shelby plays probably will be, too. So yes, the Patriots could win two games in this tournament. Or they could win one. Or they could win none. None of those outcomes would surprise me.

      For another opinion, we turn to the final Durden Ratings for the 16 state tournament teams, which will appear in today’s Advocate. Lincoln is ranked eighth among them with a rating of 93.1, while Shelby is 13th but not far behind in points at 90.5. Hazard is 10th (91.7), and South Laurel is 15th (88.6). Less than six rating points separate the teams ranked seventh through 16th. The top three teams are Lexington Catholic (112.4), Mason County (109.4) and Holmes (103.3); Bardstown (87.8) is last.

      Today’s Advocate includes the preview of Thursday’s game. There will be postgame coverage within minutes of the final whistle on amnews.com, and that coverage will be updated a couple of times Thursday evening. There will be full coverage in the Advocate on Friday, including a quarterfinal preview if Lincoln advances.

      I shouldn’t put it on the record, but for the record here’s my pick to win it all: Holmes.

      * * *

      For the history buffs among you, here’s a copy-and-paste from last year with the history of Advocate area teams in the Boys Sweet Sixteen. Of the last nine local teams that have qualified for the Boys Sweet Sixteen, only one has made it past the first round. That was Harrodsburg, which reached the quarterfinal in 1996.

      Here’s how all of the local teams fared that have reached the state tourney (note that the first state tournament was held in 1916, the KHSAA took it over in 1918 and the present 16-region numbering system began in 1932):

      • 1916 (8-team tourney): Danville lost to Somerset 57-8.
      • 1917 (8-team tourney): Centre Academy lost to Monticello 29-13; Danville lost to Owensboro 17-8.
      • 1918: Danville lost to Lexington 23-14.
      • 1919: Danville lost to Somerset 30-24.
      • 1926: Danville def. Henderson 24-19, def. Winchester 42-19, def. Ashland Blazer 19-16 (OT), lost to St. Xavier 26-13 (championship).
      • 1928: Danville lost to Ashland Blazer 16-8.
      • 1930: Moreland lost to Carr Creek 19-15.
      • 1938: Burgin (11th Region) lost to Bellevue 32-19; Highland def. Corydon 37-16, lost to Maysville 25-23.
      • 1939: Danville lost to Olmstead 31-26.
      • 1945: Danville def. Dawson Springs 54-30, def. Providence 40-38, lost to Male 50-20, lost to Harlan 43-39 (third-place game).
      • 1951: Danville def. Caverna 47-42, lost to Whitesburg 71-44.
      • 1954: Danville lost to Ashland Blazer 74-67.
      • 1960: Harrodsburg (11th Region) lost to Bell County 66-54.
      • 1968: Danville lost to Lee County 76-58.
      • 1973: Danville def. Bowling Green 71-70, lost to Owensboro 77-56.
      • 1975: Lincoln County def. Fairview 65-52, lost to Christian County 83-59.
      • 1980: Lincoln County lost to Union County 85-69.
      • 1990: Danville lost to Clay County 80-59.
      • 1993: Casey County lost to Harlan 75-70.
      • 1996: Harrodsburg def. Boone County 57-50, lost to Lexington Catholic 67-44.
      • 1998: Boyle County lost to Fleming County 57-49.
      • 1999: Boyle County lost to Muhlenberg North 47-43.
      • 2000: Mercer County lost to Scott County 95-47.
      • 2006: Boyle County lost to Pleasure Ridge Park 67-43.
      • 2007: Lincoln County lost to Adair County 51-41.
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      Lincoln County logistics

      Here’s some potentially valuable info for following Lincoln County in the Boys Sweet Sixteen, whether you’re making the trip to Rupp Arena or backing the Patriots from back home when they play Shelby County on Thursday:

      • Find rosters and statistics for Lincoln, Shelby and all the other Sweet Sixteen teams at this KHSAA Web page. There are also links to live statistics, which will be updated constantly during the game, to statistics and other info that will be updated as the tourney progresses, brackets and streaming audio.
      • Tickets are $11 (upper level) and $16 (lower level), except for those seats in Lincoln’s official cheering section, which are presumably already gone. Tickets can be purchased at the Rupp Arena box office (859-233-3535) or through Ticketmaster.
      • Lincoln’s cheering section for its first-round game will be in lower sections 23 and 24 and upper section 224. Those are the end-zone sections closest to the visitors’ bench, which is the bench the Patriots will use as the visiting team in their game. (Here’s a link to a Rupp Arena seating chart.) All tickets are good for both the Lincoln-Shelby game and the South Laurel-Hazard game that precedes it. If the Patriots win, cheering section tickets for their next game will be sold after the game at the arena; listen for announcements late in the game.
      • If you’re following the game at home or at work, you can listen to Lincoln’s broadcast on radio at WPBK-FM (102.9) or online at wpbkfm.com, or you can listen to the Sweet Sixteen network online feed from this page. The network broadcast of all tourney games can be heard over the air at WVLK-FM (101.5). You can also tap into live and constantly updated stats from each game at this page.
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      Young named regional player of the year

      Lincoln County guard Ryan Young has been voted the 12th Region boys player of the year by the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches members in the region. Young and regional coach of the year Rob Jones of McCreary Central will be honored Friday afternoon at the Boys Sweet Sixteen at halftime of the second quarterfinal.

      Young is the first player from the Advocate’s coverage area to win this award since Joe White of Mercer County in 2003.

      The full list of boys players of the year is here, and the list of coaches of the year is here.

      In addition, former Casey County coach Jack Stanford has been selected to the KABC Court of Honor. Stanford will also be recognized Friday afternoon at the state tournament, between the first and second quarterfinals.

      * * *

      On the subject of Young, he has postponed any serious consideration of where he’ll play collegiate sports until after Lincoln’s season concludes, and the Patriots’ Sweet Sixteen trip has delayed that even further.

      Young said after Lincoln won the 12th Region Tournament that he plans to sit down with his family “a couple of weeks after the season” to consider his options.

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      All-Area announcements

      Twenty local basketball players have been voted by area coaches to The Advocate-Messenger All-Area basketball teams. The girls team is in today’s edition of the Advocate, and the boys team will be announced Sunday.

      The team covers eight high schools in Boyle, Casey, Garrard, Lincoln and Mercer counties.

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      Finding Lincoln's foe and filling the field

      The final six spots in the Boys Sweet Sixteen brackets were finally filled Wednesday night in regional title games pushed back by last weekend’s winter storm. The list of winners includes Shelby County, which rallied to defeat Gallatin County 49-48 for the 8th Region championship. Shelby will play 12th Region champion Lincoln County in the first round of the state tourney at 1:30 p.m. March 20.

      Gallatin, bidding for its first regional title since 1959, was up by two points and at the free-throw line with 12 seconds left. But after a miss, Shelby converted a three-point play with 6 seconds left to turn the tables. The Rockets will return to Rupp Arena for the second time in three years.

      Here are the full first-round pairings for the Boys Sweet Sixteen, in bracket order: Wednesday, March 19 — University Heights (2nd Region) vs. Lexington Catholic (11th), Central (6th) vs. Owensboro (3rd), Jeffersontown (7th) vs. Paintsville (15th), Holmes (9th) vs. Bardstown (5th); Thursday, March 20 — South Laurel (13th) vs. Hazard (14th), Shelby County (8th) vs. Lincoln County (12th), Paducah Tilghman (1st) vs. Greenwood (4th), Mason County (10th) vs. Elliott County (16th).

      * * *

      Rockcastle County put up a good fight in its first-round game in the Girls Sweet Sixteen, but the Lady Rockets came up short in a 60-56 loss to Ohio County, and they remain winless in five trips to the state tourney.

      Rockcastle led 34-24 early in the second quarter, then gave up 19 straight points in just 4:02 to fall behind 43-34. There were 11 lead changes in all and six in the third quarter before Ohio crept out to a four-point lead. The Lady Rockets’ last chance came when Angie Lawrence was fouled on a 3-point miss with 3 seconds left. She missed the first two free throws, and Rockcastle couldn’t rebound when she missed the third intentionally.

      Sarah Rowe had 20 points in her final game for Rockcastle, and Sara Hammond had 18 rebounds. Rockcastle forced 23 turnovers but committed 29.

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      Finding Lincoln’s foe and filling the field

      The final six spots in the Boys Sweet Sixteen brackets were finally filled Wednesday night in regional title games pushed back by last weekend’s winter storm. The list of winners includes Shelby County, which rallied to defeat Gallatin County 49-48 for the 8th Region championship. Shelby will play 12th Region champion Lincoln County in the first round of the state tourney at 1:30 p.m. March 20.

      Gallatin, bidding for its first regional title since 1959, was up by two points and at the free-throw line with 12 seconds left. But after a miss, Shelby converted a three-point play with 6 seconds left to turn the tables. The Rockets will return to Rupp Arena for the second time in three years.

      Here are the full first-round pairings for the Boys Sweet Sixteen, in bracket order: Wednesday, March 19 — University Heights (2nd Region) vs. Lexington Catholic (11th), Central (6th) vs. Owensboro (3rd), Jeffersontown (7th) vs. Paintsville (15th), Holmes (9th) vs. Bardstown (5th); Thursday, March 20 — South Laurel (13th) vs. Hazard (14th), Shelby County (8th) vs. Lincoln County (12th), Paducah Tilghman (1st) vs. Greenwood (4th), Mason County (10th) vs. Elliott County (16th).

      * * *

      Rockcastle County put up a good fight in its first-round game in the Girls Sweet Sixteen, but the Lady Rockets came up short in a 60-56 loss to Ohio County, and they remain winless in five trips to the state tourney.

      Rockcastle led 34-24 early in the second quarter, then gave up 19 straight points in just 4:02 to fall behind 43-34. There were 11 lead changes in all and six in the third quarter before Ohio crept out to a four-point lead. The Lady Rockets’ last chance came when Angie Lawrence was fouled on a 3-point miss with 3 seconds left. She missed the first two free throws, and Rockcastle couldn’t rebound when she missed the third intentionally.

      Sarah Rowe had 20 points in her final game for Rockcastle, and Sara Hammond had 18 rebounds. Rockcastle forced 23 turnovers but committed 29.

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