Tuesday, December 28, 2010

SPORTS>>Cabot boys at crossroads

By Jason King
Leader sportswriter

Cabot coach Jerry Bridges has mixed feeling about the first part of the Panthers’ basketball season, which includes a 2-1 run and third-place finish at the recent Battle of the Brier Invitational at Greenbrier.

The 7A Panthers (6-7) beat Mills in the first round before falling to 5A non-conference rival Vilonia in the second.

That put Cabot in the third-place game against Charleston, where the Panthers pulled through with another victory.

“The only thing that disappointed me was that we didn’t play very well against Vilonia,” Bridges said. “Not to take away from Vilonia — the things they did defensively gave us problems.

“We came out shooting extremely poor. We were 3 of 20 in the first half. Our defensive intensity wasn’t anything near what it needed to be. But I think it is all stuff we can learn from.”

With a roster that features just as many sophomores and juniors as it does seniors, Bridges said court time and gaining confidence have been top priorities in preparation for the 7A-Central Conference schedule that begins on Jan. 7.

“It’s not about effort,” Bridges said. “They work hard every day. It’s about telling the younger ones that we don’t consider them sophomores anymore because they have 13 games under their belts.

“We have to do a better job of making the right decisions at the right times and do all the little things right.”

Cabot has made three straight appearances in the 7A state tournament since 2008.

The Panthers held off a scrappy Russellville team in the final 7A-Central Conference game of the season last year to hold on to the No. 6 and tournament seed.

They faced 7A-West No. 3 seed Fort Smith Northside in the first round of the state tournament in Van Buren and lost 44-31, marking the first time Cabot did not reach the semifinal round in the three recent trips to state.

The Panthers will open the conference schedule in Conway on Jan. 7, followed by a home game against Little Rock Catholic on Jan. 11.

Cabot will play at home against Little Rock Central on Jan. 18 and take to the road again for a game against Bryant on Jan. 21 as the start of a two-game road swing that includes a trip to Van Buren on Jan. 25.

The Panthers will return home Jan. 28 to face Russellville and have an open date Feb. 1.

“The competition level may get a little tougher,” Bridges said.

“The biggest thing that has hurt us in a lot of games is sending our opponents to the foul line way too many times. We’ve got to stop reaching and grabbing so much.”

Among Cabot’s early-season successes was a trip to the final of the Central Arkansas Christian Invitational before Christmas.

Cabot got a last-second three-pointer from Clayton Vaught to beat Benton in the semifinal. But a scrappy Paragould team, similar to Cabot in size and defensive hustle, held off the Panthers for a 58-53 victory Dec. 11.