Still basking in the aftermath of its biggest win in three years, the Columbus North girls basketball team didn’t need a lot of coaxing Wednesday to refocus on the next daunting task.
The Bull Dogs, who knocked off two-time defending state champion and undefeated Bedford North Lawrence on Tuesday, had only three days to prepare for another tough challenge: 27-1 Lawrence North.
“It was nice to know that we beat a good team, but the coaches got us in the mindset now that it’s on to the next one,” Columbus North senior standout Ali Patberg said Wednesday. “We got to celebrate (Tuesday) night, and now it’s time to get back to business.”
The Bull Dogs (26-1), ranked No. 2 in Class 4A, will face 4A No. 3 Lawrence North about 3 p.m. Saturday in the Richmond Semistate. The Wildcats are the only team to beat Columbus North this season, winning 64-60 in overtime on Nov. 29.
“I think we can beat them,” Patberg said. “We’re going to believe just like we believed (Tuesday) night in ourselves. It would be nice to get revenge on them.”
This time, Lawrence North likely will be without its top player. Purdue recruit Lamina Cooper, who leads the Wildcats with 16 points a game, tore an ACL in Saturday’s Decatur Central Regional.
“It couldn’t happen to a better person,” Lawrence North coach Chris Giffin said. “It’s a disappointment to her, and obviously to us as a team, as well. There’s no way that we’re going to be better without her, but we’ll rely on a couple of other kids to step up a little bit and be ready to go.”
Giffin said it’s possible Cooper could try to play in a limited capacity Saturday.
“She’s a tremendous player and a key player for them,” Columbus North coach Pat McKee said. “We’ll prepare with the mindset that she’ll probably play, and be normal, and then if she’s not, we’ll adjust for that. The last thing I want to do is assume she’s not playing and there she is, and it’s Willis Reed and the Knicks in 1972. We don’t need that.”
The Wildcats feature two other Division I recruits: senior Jordan Hankins (Northwestern) and junior Ae’rianna Harris (Purdue). Hankins averages 16 points a game, while Harris adds 11.
Cooper scored 28 points, while Harris added 17 and Hankins had 13 when Lawrence North visited Columbus the fourth game of the season. The Wildcats led that game by 10 at halftime.
“We have to play the whole game,” Patberg said. “I thought we had a really good second half, and then we kind of let them back into it, and in overtime they got us. But the first half, I don’t think we played very well.”
Lawrence North will have one player it didn’t have in that meeting. Lauren Dickerson was out with a torn ACL and returned in December.
“The general identities are unchanged, but we both evolved, and I feel like we’re better now than we were back in November, and I’m certain they think they’re better now than they were back in November,” McKee said. “We’ll have to see who can impose their will a little bit on the other team. Hopefully, we can impose our will on them a little bit more on them than they do on us.”
Patberg, a McDonald’s All-American and Women’s Basketball Coaches of America All-American and a Notre Dame recruit, leads the Bull Dogs with 25.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 3.3 steals. Sophomore Maliah Howard-Bass adds 9.8 points, and junior Paige Litrell averages 8.4 points.
“You have one of the best players unarguably in the state and even in the nation in Ali,” Giffin said. “The position she plays, she has a lot of influence on the game from directing traffic to the tempo they play.
“What I feel like is different trying to prepare for them is that they just have a much more balanced attack now,” he said. “It seems like Ali is trusting her teammates a little bit more now, and certain role players are playing really well around Ali. It seems to be a very well-constructed team that is buying into what Pat is giving them. It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us.”
Giffin isn’t surprised he’s facing Columbus North and not Bedford North Lawrence, which beat the Wildcats in last year’s semistate and is currently ranked No. 3 in the nation by USA Today.
“I would have thought that Bedford would have been considered the favorite only because they were at home,” Giffin said. “I would have thought if it had been at Columbus like it was last year or on a neutral court, Columbus would have been the favorite. I’m not shocked by any means.”
Neither are the Bull Dogs, who can earn a trip to the state finals with a win against Lawrence North.
“(Tuesday) was exciting, but we’re not done with what we came here to do,” senior Debie Gedeon said. “We’re both competitive teams, and no one likes to lose, so we definitely want to finish business.”
What: Richmond Semistate
Teams: Columbus North (26-1) vs. Lawrence North (27-1)
When: 3 p.m. Saturday (follows 1 p.m. Class 3A game between Indianapolis Chatard and Princeton)
Where: Richmond High School