By Chris Parsons
It was this time last year when the North Laurel Jaguars (15-15) embarked on a three-game win streak that gave first-year coach Brad Sizemore and his squad a trip to the KHSAA Sweet Sixteen.
The Jaguars picked up wins over Middlesboro, Knox Central and Clay County to complete an improbable run to a 13th Region Championship.
North Laurel is in familiar territory as they prepare for a matchup with Knox Central (17-13) in the first round of the 13th Region Tournament. The good news for North Laurel is the fact the Jaguars knocked off Knox Central 63-47 at home less than two weeks ago.
Sizemore said despite the ups and downs the regular season held for his squad, he knows where the Jaguars stand as far as expectations.
“I think our kids are ready and I think they know what’s at stake, especially after last year,” Sizemore said. “I think our guys are capable of making a run here, but I told them that other than the people in our locker room, nobody expects us to make any noise in this tournament.
“Knox Central is a good team and they play well together and we know that, having played them not long ago,” he added. “We’ll have to play well and try and slow down their scorers if we expect to get a win.”
Knox Central is in a similar situation as North Laurel. The Panthers have had an up and down season, battling injuries most of the year. The good news is Brian Evans’ squad is healthy and playing well, coming off a 60-45 win over Barbourville in the 51st District title game.
Despite the way his team has played lately, Evans said he knows the threat that North Laurel poses to any team in the 13th Region Tournament.
“I was really impressed with North Laurel in our game against them,” Evans said. “Their big guys were really effective and good inside play carried them in that game.
“Jake Allen had about 27 points, so we couldn’t do anything with him all night,” he added. “The good thing for them is they have some kids that can score around their big guys and they are very deep off the bench, so you have to worry about that as well.”
When it comes to region competition, Knox Central has gone 9-7 this season, while the Jaguars are 8-10. That considered, both teams have had ups and downs against some common opponents.
Both teams have lost once to Corbin, Jackson County and Harlan County, but the Jaguars have also picked up wins over Corbin, and Jackson County.
The game should be a close one if you speak statistically. Offensively, Knox central averages 59.1 points per game, while the Jaguars score 62.1 ppg. On the defensive side of things, the Panthers allow 55.6 ppg, while North Laurel is giving up 58.2 ppg.
With the numbers so close when it comes to scoring, both coaches agree that the may come down to a few factors on each side of the ball.
“We’ve got to do a better job of guarding their post guys than we did in our first matchup,” Evans said. “Other than that, I think we have got to find way to get more good shots.”
“We didn’t have a very good night scoring in our first game and we let their big guys have their way,” he added. “To sum it up, I guess we have to be more efficient on offense and play well defensively against the two big guys.”
For Sizemore, he said his team has to continue to play with confidence and do the things that they are able to do well.
“We have to keep them off the offensive boards and not let them have second chance shots,” Sizemore said. “We also have to know where (Dustin) Hensley and (Jeffrey) Adams are at all times, because they can hurt you.
“We just have to play our game and try to do the things that we know how to do well,” he added. “There’s going to be a team that gets hot this week and comes out of this thing, so I told our guys that we can be that team if we play the way we are capable of playing.”
Tonight’s game will tip-off at approximately 7:45 p.m. at Harlan County High School.