“Every game counts” — 21-5A teams start race for the top
Published 12:10 am Friday, January 3, 2020
As the second half of the basketball season begins, District 21-5A teams are beginning to play for playoff spots.
“District is going to present some challenges,” Memorial coach Alden Lewis said. “I told my kids every game is a big game in district. This is when every game counts, and if we want to reach our goal we’ve got to be able to take care of district. Every team presents a challenge and we’re going to take them as-is.”
Area teams have come to the start of district play facing different challenges and circumstances.
Coach Chris Smith said his team has grown up a lot, but there are things left to work on. The Indians (7-10) began the season with a new coach and a new strategy on defense. Smith says the strategy is working well, holding most of their opponents below 50 points.
“We’re starting to understand it a little better,” Smith said. “We’re playing pack line help and trying to keep the ball out of the lane. They’ve been doing a good job of understanding the concept and getting better every game.”
Smith readily recognizes the challenge Memorial, Nederland and Barbers Hill will present.
“It’s loaded like always,” he said. “You’ve got three powerhouse teams: Memorial, of course, is state-ranked; Nederland has probably the best player in the state; Barbers Hill is well coached and solid all around. Vidor is tough and rugged. I just watched Cleveland play, and they have one of the best scorers in the district.”
Smith says the plan for winning in this district is simple: The Indians have to be tough, tough, tough.
“We’re going to have to rebound, play hard-nosed defense and control the tempo of the game,” he said. “If we do that, we’ll have a chance to win some games.”
The Titans are ranked sixth in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches poll as of Dec. 30, the only 21-5A team in the top 25. Lewis is well aware that the Titans (18-5) dominate inside.
“Our bigs have to keep playing at a high level, and our guards have to play along with that,” he said. “We’re an inside-out team. On the inside our bigs do well. Our guards feed off of that, so hopefully that’ll continue to be an asset for us.”
Memorial is looking across town to Nederland for a tough game they are looking forward to facing.
“They’ve got several kids returning from last year,” Lewis said. “They’re going to be pretty tough in district. I look for a good game with Nederland both games, so hopefully we can handle business and move on to the playoffs and our ultimate goal.”
He’s encouraged by his team’s recent quality of play and hopes the Titans keep it up.
“We’re doing pretty well,” he said. “We’re moving forward. I’m seeing improvements offensively and defensively, so that’s a good thing. I think we’re playing some good ball heading into district.”
Coach Brian English says the Bulldogs’ previous games were difficult enough to get his players used to the kind of basketball they should expect by the time the playoffs arrive.
“I think we played a pretty tough schedule, especially this last tournament we were in,” he said. “We ended up playing 4 6A teams. I think it’s prepared us for this district race.”
Experience has increased overall for the Bulldogs (15-8) since the previous season.
“Fortunately I think all the kids have improved from last year — some more than others — but I think overall there’s a big jump in knowing where to go, knowing what to do, confidence, so I’m hoping that will pay off for us.”
Difficult as always, English says District 21-5A may be stronger this year, which he was hoping might not be the case.
“Maybe the top two or three teams are even better this year,” he said. “It’s going to be a great race. Some of the teams we were hoping would be down, we saw them in a couple of tournaments this past weekend, and they weren’t so down.”
While the Titans are keeping watch on the Bulldogs, the Bulldogs are watching right back.
“Memorial’s got two real big kids that play on the block and they’re always guard-heavy, so they’re going to be a big challenge for us,” English said.