Before the Columbus North girls basketball team can reach its dream match-up against two-time defending state champion Bedford North Lawrence, it must first take care of some Zs.
That’s not the “zzzzz” sleeping variety. It’s the in-your-face, athletic, aggressive-in-the-post, Evansville Central brand.
Zuriel Sanders and her younger sister Zion represent a formidable challenge when the Bull Dogs open regional play at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Bedford North Lawrence High School. Senior Zuriel Sanders is a Texas Tech-bound, 6-foot forward who moves like a guard. She averages 19.7 points a game and 8.9 rebounds.
She is, without a doubt, one of the state’s best players.
Her sister, a sophomore, is a younger version of Zuriel who averages 10.6 points and 4.5 rebounds. Combined they make the Bears go.
If the Bull Dogs play like they did in their sectional-opener against East Central — think of a bunch of kids lost in a foggy swamp — they will be spending Saturday night on the bleachers … 20 rows up with the other fans watching the Bears play the Stars.
North coach Pat McKee knows that his team must be focused on the task at hand, which in this case happens to be Evansville Central in the morning.
McKee won’t even talk about the possibility of facing Bedford North Lawrence on Saturday night. It would be kind of like the Green Bay Packers talking about facing the Patriots in the Super Bowl at halftime of the NFC Championship Game.
For those farmers in the audience, it’s that “don’t count your chickens” dynamic. Kenny Rogers would say “don’t count your chips.” You get it.
Now we understand that McKee often gives us the Lou Holtz shuffle, talking about opponents like they have two girls headed to the NBA who can dunk on LeBron. That’s described on Page 48 of the coach-speak manual. This, however, is not McKee trying to be respectful of an opponent. The Bears, who are 22-3, really are good.
Their only losses have come to the state’s best teams, Princeton, Bedford North Lawrence and Evansville Mater Dei. At the very least, they are a superior opponent to say, East Central. North barely got by the Trojans.
Such is the state of Indiana girls basketball, where the Bull Dogs have been able to defeat opponents by playing their “A” game in spurts. They turn it on and turn if off as the scoreboard deems necessary. If they try that strategy against the Bears, the lights are going out on their season before they get a shot at the Stars.
McKee is pounding away to make sure that doesn’t happen. At the top of his keys to victory are three things.
“The first is to bring energy,” McKee said about Saturday morning’s game against Evansville Central. “We have to do that. If we are flat, we are not as good. We have to be excited about the day, about the opportunity.
“Secondly, we have to bring focus. We must execute pretty well most of the time, other than the occasional goof. We can’t run the plays wrong and have people in the wrong place on defense. This year we have been running different defenses and our players have different responsibilities, so they have to respond.”
The third key just is a reminder of the first two. “The last thing is consistency,” McKee said. “Sometimes we want to flip that switch. We have reached a point where flipping a switch isn’t good enough.”
After those, it’s a matter of all the basics, defending, rebounding, getting to loose balls and finishing off shots.
“That’s a function of practice,” McKee said. “We have played the way we practiced the last two weeks.”
North’s practices have not been the best. Besides having some rust for just playing one game in a two-week period, the Bull Dogs have been in emotional distress over North senior Josh Speidel’s serious auto accident and his fight for life ever since. McKee said he needed to allow his players time to work through that trauma.
With Evansville Central, and a possible game against Bedford North Lawrence, scheduled for Saturday, McKee said he had to raise the level of intensity of his practice sessions this week.
“When I talk about energy, consistency and focus, I am referring to practice, too,” McKee said.
Here’s hoping that the Bull Dogs’ practice sessions go well this week and we get, as far as senior Ali Patberg’s career is concerned, North-Bedford North Lawrence IV. The Bull Dogs beat the Stars in the regional in Patberg’s freshman season and have lost the past two in the regional.
It seems only fitting to be able to watch arguably the best basketball player in the city’s history get a shot to perform on the biggest stage imaginable.
But we also understand that Zuriel Sanders’ fans feel the same way. And you can bet the Bears will be focused.