By BRYAN GASKINS Kokomo Tribune
---- — The Class 3A boys basketball sectional at Twin Lakes brings together seven teams — four from the Mid-Indiana Conference and three from the Hoosier Conference.
The sectional also seemingly always brings together Western and West Lafayette for a matchup at some point.
This year, the blind draw put Western vs. West Lafayette in the opening round. They will meet in the second game Wednesday night, at approximately 7:45 p.m.
“It’s become almost synonymous with March — Western vs. West Lafayette,” Western coach Bart Miller said.
The teams have met in sectional play in 10 of the previous 11 years, usually in the semifinal round or the final. The Panthers hold a 7-3 advantage in those games although the Red Devils have won three of the last five meetings. Last year, West Lafayette beat Western 65-52 in a semifinal en route to winning the title.
The sectional tips off at tonight with another familiar matchup, Maconaquah vs. Twin Lakes.
“This is our third year in a row of being at Twin Lakes, playing Twin Lakes in the opener, and then the winner goes and plays Benton Central,” Maconaquah coach Andy Steele said. “[The draw] is supposed to be surprising, but it’s really not.”
In Wednesday’s first game, Northwestern faces Peru.
The following are looks at the three opening-round games.
MACONAQUAH (6-12) VS. TWIN LAKES (13-7)
The Braves went 3-3 in the 2013 portion of the season, then dropped nine of their first 10 games in the new year. The Braves regrouped to post victories over Taylor and Pioneer in the final week of the regular season.
“Obviously, there is no doubt we struggled in the mid part of the season,” Steele said. “Not to put a lot of blame on it, but the weather really hurt us, not being able to get in and get some gym time. Our guys struggled to be consistent during that stretch. ... I think our last three games were a complete 180. We lost to Southwood, but we came out and played good basketball and only lost by three. Then we took it to Taylor and played hard and aggressive against those guys and we did the exact same thing against Pioneer. Hopefully we carry that momentum into the sectional.”
Steele is impressed with Twin Lakes. The Indians were 3-5 at one point, but rattled off an eight-game win streak to turn their season around and emerge as one of the sectional’s favorites.
“They throw in a press just about every make or dead-ball situation and fall back into a man. I think we’re ready for that,” Steele said. “What’s been really impressive to me in watching them has been their guard play. Just about every guard [coach Kent Adams] has can spot-up shoot and also get to the rim. We’re going to have to play hard-nosed defense and make sure we’re in good help side and take away those easy jump shots.
“If we can do that and make a good transition to offense and knock down our open shots, it should be a good, competitive game.”
Maconaquah beat Twin Lakes 61-56 in last year’s sectional.
Senior K.J. Walton (11.8 points per game) and freshman Wyatt Hughes (10) lead the Braves in scoring.
NORTHWESTERN (9-10) VS. PERU (7-13)
Northwestern was 6-4 after beating Sheridan on Feb. 1, but the Tigers went 3-6 the rest of the way to finish the regular season 9-10.
“I feel like we’ve been in every game we’ve played this year,” Northwestern coach Jim Gish said. “It seems like we always have a bad quarter offensively that puts a lot of stress on us defensively. But we feel like our kids are very competitive.”
Gish noted the rash of weather-related school cancellations in January was the biggest story of the season for his squad. The Tigers missed practices at the time and then missed more practices in February when they had to make up games.
“We’ve played several games back to back without any preparation and it just makes for a challenge when you have a team that requires repetition,” he said.
Northwestern beat Peru 57-47 in an MIC contest on Feb. 13 at Peru.
The Bengal Tigers are led by 6-foot-11 center Seth Adelsperger.
“They have a lot of size and a lot of athleticism. Anytime you can put 6-11 on the floor to anchor the middle, it presents a lot of problems both offensively and defensively for the opposition,” Gish said.
“It has to be a team effort to contain him,” Gish added, noting Northwestern will need to take away passing angles.
Gish pointed to limiting Peru to one shot per possession as a big key. He added ball security as another key, noting his squad needs to limit its turnovers.
Northwestern is led in scoring by senior wing Graham Ortmann (15.7 ppg).
WESTERN (13-6) VS. WEST LAFAYETTE (14-6)
Why have these squads met so often in sectional play? The biggest reason is they are constantly in the mix for the title. The Panthers have won the sectional six times since 2003 and the Red Devils have taken the hardware three times since 2009.
They are two of the favorites again this year. They own the best records in the field, which Miller sees as full of challengers.
“At this time of the year, it doesn’t matter what your record was in the regular season, everybody is 0-0 and you’re looking to go 1-0 if you play Tuesday or Wednesday,” Miller said.
“The sectional, in my opinion, is wide open. We’re obviously going to have to come ready to play.”
Western won the teams’ regular-season meeting, beating the Red Devils 61-57 on Feb. 15 at Russiaville. Like most games between the squads, it was tightly contested. The Panthers broke away from a late 52-all tie to grab the win.
The rematch comes Wednesday.
“Coach [Dave] Wood does an outstanding job with his club. They’ll be solid,” Miller said. “We won by four at our place. We’re playing on a neutral court now so take away those four points automatically. It should be an excellent game. Both teams, I’m sure, will be ready to battle on Wednesday night.”
Western is led by its All-Area backcourt of junior Des Balentine (21.1 ppg) and senior Evan Warden (15.2).
TWIN LAKES SECTIONAL Today 7 p.m. -- Maconaquah vs. Twin Lakes Wednesday 6 p.m. -- NW vs. Peru 7:45 -- Western vs. W. Lafayette Friday 6 p.m. -- Benton Central vs. Mac-TL winner 7:45 p.m. -- NW-Peru winner vs. Western-WL winner Saturday 7:30 p.m. -- Championship