By Chris Parsons
The Barbourville Lady Tigers haven’t exactly had a dream season, but it has been pretty close to this point.
Andrea Hillard’s squad opened the season by winning five straight games, including wins over Jackson County and Pineville, setting a school record for the best start ever.
After a loss to Corbin, they swept through Lynn Camp’s Bowman Invitational Tournament to bring home a championship trophy, but stumbled in the opening round of the All ‘A’ Classic, losing to Lynn Camp, 56-51.
Since then, they’ve struggled to string wins together, but have now won four straight after knocking off Lynn Camp in the championship game of the 51st District Tournament, 50-47.
While they’ve reached a few of the goals set at the beginning of the team’s preseason workouts, Hillard said there’s still plenty her team can achieve. With a spirited group of juniors leading her team, she said it's important that the team doesn’t start looking ahead to next season and she hopes a win over Harlan County keeps things going.
“We’ve had a great season and these girls have done some amazing things, but it’s not over,” Hillard said. “We have a great group of juniors that have been together for a long time and they have a lot of goals they want to reach, but we can still reach them this season.
“The last thing we want to do is look ahead and start thinking of next season,” she added. “That’s the catch-22 with this team, the fact that they are juniors and they know even if we lose, we’ll have a chance to do it all over again next season. You still have to play for this season though.”
Barbourville has averaged 58.2 points per game on offense, thanks to three starters posting double figures on a constant basis, led by Kara Erslan's 18 ppg. Kelsey Erslan, Kara’s twin, chips in 14.1 ppg, while Amber Mills scores 11.4 ppg, which accounts for 43 of the Lady Tigers’ 58 ppg.
The majority of Barbourville’s scoring comes from inside the three-point line, but Mills and Kara Erslan are not afraid to shoot the ball from the outside as they have connected on 22 and 42 three-pointers, respectively, on the season.
The two teams have met twice this season (both Barbourville losses, 45-38 and 54-40) and both times the Lady Tigers have been held to 40 points or less. With that in mind, Hillard said her team has to take smart shots if they expect to be in the game against Harlan County.
“We played Harlan County twice this season and both times it was fairly close both times,” she said. “I feel like other than a few big kids, we match up pretty well with them so I think we can score the ball.
“We have to take smart shots on offense and if that means taking an open three, we have to take it, but I think we can go inside also,” she added.
On the defensive side of things, which has been a strong suit for Barbourville this season, the Lady Tigers are allowing 52.7 ppg.
Considering the pace Hillard likes her team to play at, the success of the Lady Tigers’ defense will play a factor in determining how well they perform offensively.
“When we are playing well, our offense starts with our defense, so we have to defend well” Hillard said. “The style of basketball we play gives us a chance to score in transition off of steals and defensive rebounds, as long as we execute correctly.
“With that said, we have to limit the number of chances we allow them offensively by rebounding well and playing good post defense,” she added. “If we can do the things I mentioned well, we’ll give ourselves a chance to be in the game late and that’s all you can ask for at this point of the season.”