Substate preview: Lansing girls vs. Shawnee Heights
The Lansing High girls have spent the last week asking themselves one question regarding the Class 5A state basketball tournament: "Why not us?"
And honestly, why not Lansing?
Why shouldn't the Lions advance to state? Sure, Shawnee Heights has tradition on its side from advancing to seven straight state tourneys, but the past is the past. Besides, this year's Heights squad is far different from the teams of the past seven years. It has had trouble putting points on the board all year. Meanwhile, Lansing is having its best season in recent memory. LHS will be the superior offensive squad on the floor at 7:45 p.m. Saturday night when the squads square off at Highland Park High School in Topeka.
So again, why not Lansing?
Perhaps the Lions will put that question to rest with a victory tonight against the T-Birds. Until then, let's get to know the matchup better.
THE TIME: 7:45 p.m. Saturday, March 4, 2006.
THE PLACE: Highland Park High School in Topeka.
THE DIRECTIONS: Highland Park is located at 2424 SE California in Topeka. Getting there is easy. It's a pretty straight shot on the highway. From Lansing, take Kansas Highway 7 to Interstate 70 West toward Lawrence. You will take I-70 about 44 miles (you will pay about $1.60 one way to take the turnpike). Take California Ave. exit 346 A. Turn left on California and go about a mile. The school is on your left. Total travel distance is about 56 miles and should take roughly an hour. There is a little bit of shoulder work being done on parts of I-70, so traffic may be slowed a little bit.
THE RECORDS: Lansing is 15-6. Shawnee Heights is 15-5. The Lions were the Kaw Valley League runner-up and the T-Birds were the co-champs of the Centennial League.
THE STAKES: At stake is a berth in the Class 5A state tournament.
GETTING TO KNOW THE LIONS: Lansing was the Kaw Valley League runner-up with a 10-3 record in conference action. Overall, the Lions are 15-6. Two of their losses this season were to the No. 1-ranked team in Class 4A, Tonganoxie (21-1). The Lions have won 10 of their last 12 games.
Lansing advanced to the substate finals by beating Mill Valley on Thursday night, 54-44. It was the third time LHS beat Mill Valley this season. Senior forward Amanda Radovich scored 25 points and senior Rachel Darrow added 14 in the victory.
Lansing has been most successful this season when it has established Radovich in the post early. The 5-foot-11 forward leads LHS with an average of 17.86 points per game. Darrow averages 11.62 and senior Nichole Twitchel averages 9.95. Sophomore point guard averages 8.14 points per game and is Lansing's most lethal three-point shooter when she is on. Junior Elizabeth Cristiano is the fifth starter. She doesn't score much, but she is a good rebounder and defensive player.
Although those four carry the majority of the load on offense, Lansing coach Keith Andrews likes to go deep into his bench. Freshman Brittney Lang and sophomores Amanda Darrow, Morgan Chiles and Christine Cordes all see significant minutes every game.
GETTING TO KNOW THE T-BIRDS: Shawnee Heights advanced to the substate finals by beating Highland Park (5-16) on Thursday night, 33-16. It was a typical game for the T-Birds. Just like they've done all season, they struggled to put points on the board. They led just 18-8 at halftime and had a tough time extending their lead. Their 12-point first quarter was the only quarter where they scored in double-digits. Senior Jamie Stinson scored a game-high 12 points on four three-pointers.
Stinson has been the T-Birds' only reliable offensive threat all season. Her 12.8 points per game average makes her the only player on the team averaging more than seven points per game.
Heights has scored 36 or fewer points in each of its last four games. During that span, the T-Birds are just 2-2. For the season they have averaged just 41.55 points per game. That average has dipped to barely 34 points per game in the last eight contests.
Because its offense has been inconsistent, Heights has won games by playing tough defense. The T-Birds have held 11 of their 20 opponents to 32 or fewer points. For the season, opponents have averaged barely 33 points against the T-Birds.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The game will come down to a few key areas. First, and most important: Focus. Where will the Lions' heads be? This has been the defining issue for the Lions all season. When everybody is on the same page - think the first game against Bonner Springs when LHS won by 22 points - the Lions click on all cylinders and are as dangerous as anybody in the state. When they are focused, their shots fall more frequently and they play much better defense. When not everybody is focused, however, disaster strikes (think Bishop Ward). This is the substate championship game, so focus should not be a problem. But you never know ...
Second, how will Lansing's guards handle the pressure from the Shawnee Heights defense? LHS must limit its turnovers. The more scoring opportunities they have, the better off the Lions will be because they are the superior offensive team.
Third, how quickly will Amanda Radovich assert herself? Height will do everything it can to deny her the ball and shut her down. If Radovich can create havoc early, that will bode very well for Lansing.
Fourth, how will the T-Birds shoot? If Stinson finds her rhythm early, that could spell trouble for the Lions. But if Stinson is guarded well - think Nichole Twitchel here - then that will put a lot of pressure on Heights' other players to step up and knock down shots. When others have been forced to score, that hasn't boded well for the T-Birds this season.
Fifth, will Katie Nietzke rise to the occasion? Lansing's sophomore point guard has been cold from beyond the arc during the past few games, but she seems to save her biggest shots for the biggest games. The stage is set for her to work her magic.
Sixth, what factor will the crowd play? Heights obviously is expected to have the larger cheering section because its fans have barely 10 minutes to travel for the game. If Lansing's fans hit the road in droves, however, that could give the Lions a major boost because they have performed their best this season in front of spirited crowds.
Finally, rebounding. Heights has missed more than its share of shots this season, but it also has scored a bulk of its points on put-backs. It is imperative that Lansing block out and win the battle of the boards. The more points Heights can score on put-backs, the less pressure there will be on the guards to hit shots.
GRADING THE MATCHUP:
OFFENSE: Advantage Lansing.
DEFENSE: Advantage Shawnee Heights.
BALL-HANDLING: Advantage Shawnee Heights.
PERIMETER SCORING: Advantage Lansing.
POINTS IN THE PAINT: Advantage Lansing.
CROWD: Advantage Shawnee Heights.