Dethroning champs just part of Bull Dogs’ battle

Let the celebration cease.

Unfortunately, the Columbus North girls basketball team has more work to do.

A lot of it.

The Bull Dogs slayed the dragon, the Bedford North Lawrence variety, and the reign of the two-time defending state champion is over. The Bull Dogs, however, haven’t experienced a state championship reign, ever.

No Columbus high school girls basketball team ever has won a state championship, although Columbus East reached the finals in both 1980 and 2007 and Columbus North made it in 2012.

This Columbus North team has a chance, as they say, to make history.

That ride back from Bedford on Tuesday after their regional championship was sweet, sirens blaring as they received an escort into the city limits, but it will pale in comparison to what will happen if North beats Lawrence North on Saturday at Richmond High School (3 p.m. start) in the semistate.

The state championship game will be March 7 at a place you might have heard about, Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Did I mention that Lawrence North beat Columbus North 64-60 in overtime on Nov. 29? That was the only loss this season by Pat McKee’s squad.

Worse yet, the Bull Dogs looked overmatched at times in that game as the Wildcats built a 34-24 halftime lead. A fantastic second-half effort, led by Columbus North senior Ali Patberg, got the Bull Dogs close.

This time around, Lawrence North appears to be a little short-handed, as Purdue-bound Lamina Cooper tore her ACL in the regionals. Whether Cooper attempts to play against Columbus North remains to be seen, but it is unlikely she will be the same player who scored 28 points in the earlier game between the two teams.

Even so, every sports fan has seen countless examples where a team unleashes an inspired effort because they have lost a star teammate. And Lawrence North has two other Division I recruits in center Aa’Rianna Harris (Purdue) and guard Jordan Hankins (Northwestern).

Whether or not Cooper plays, the Wildcats have plenty of talent.

So the challenge not only will be facing an extremely talented team, but letting go of one of the program’s greatest victories ever. That can be hard.

I’m sure the Columbus North coaching staff has been having that discussion with the players on a regular basis ever since that Bedford North Lawrence masterpiece was completed. They just can’t afford to get lost in this moment, even if it is very special.

The answer, of course, at achieving maximum focus is defense. When the Bull Dogs are playing their brand of full-court pressure, strangling everyone who touches the ball with energy, who has time to rest on their laurels?

Even when players manage to navigate through that gauntlet, they struggle in the open. Bedford North Lawrence coach Jeff Allen talked about his team missing some shots that they normally make. It’s not a coincidence or simply a bad day; it’s the result of tremendous defensive pressure.

If the defense is there Saturday, the rest will take care of itself.

We know that Columbus North has the athletic talent to apply that defensive pressure, so now it’s a matter of focus and energy.

It’s a focus that comes from players who are hungry for a victory. After the win against Bedford North Lawrence, hopefully the Bull Dogs aren’t thinking of this game as a dessert.