By MIKE MARSEE
10:44 AM EST, March 5, 2013
SOMERSET - It’s Casey County and Lincoln County for the 12th Region Tournament championship tonight, which should be no surprise at all.
When they meet at Pulaski County, it will be the fifth title game appearance for Casey since 2008 — and the third in a row — and the fifth for Lincoln since 2006. It will be the second straight year and the third time in five years they have faced each other for a spot in the Girls Sweet Sixteen.
For the second straight year, there appear to be stark differences between the two teams. Senior-dominated Lincoln (26-5) has rolled through the region with the same roster it had a year ago, winning all 17 of its games against 12th Region opponents, and 23 in all since its last regional loss in February 2012. A much younger Casey team has struggled against a challenging schedule, and its semifinal win Monday put it above .500 for the first time since late January.
But Lincoln coach Cassandra McWhorter noted that Casey got hot at this time last year for an unexpected run to the regional finals, and she isn’t about to sleep on the Rebels.
“It’s going to be a tough battle,” McWhorter said. “Coach (Randy) Salyers always seems to find a way to get his team ready at tournament time— he did the same thing last year — and it’s going to be another tough battle.”
Lincoln defeated Casey 58-47 in last year’s title game, three years after Casey beat Lincoln 32-21 for the championship. This year’s regular-season meeting between them 18 days ago wasn’t that close, as the Patriots opened a big lead in the second quarter and won 55-40 in the final home game for their five seniors, who combined for 38 points.
Salyers said Casey struggled to stop Lincoln on the inside in that game, and he said they’ll have to play better interior defense tonight without leaving other players open on the perimeters.
“We have to play good enough defense on the dribble penetration and good enough defense on (Kourtney) Belcher and (Sydney) Harris’ side without giving up any great looks outside,” he said. “Now, how are we going to do that? I don’t really know. But if you want to know what we have to do to win the game, that’s it right there.”
McWhorter said the key for Lincoln will be repeating what it did well in the first meeting.
“Handling the ball, getting the ball inside, making the easy baskets and limiting our turnovers,” she said. “And we were able to force a lot of turnovers last time we played them, and I think that will be a key, to get their guards frustrated and hopefully make them throw ball the ball in places they don’t want to.”
“One thing seems to come up and bite us: We have some turnovers against their press that seem to lead to direct layups,” Salyers said. “If we can cut those out and get it in a half-court situation, then we’re all right.”
Casey had 14 turnovers in the Feb. 15 game, while Lincoln had 15.
Both Lincoln and Casey will be trying to win third regional title.
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