Saturday, March 10, 2012

SPORTS >> Bears very clear on final strategy

Leader sports editor

“Get back”. That’s been a key mantra for Sylvan Hills in the week of practice leading up to today’s class 5A state championship game at Summit Arena in Hot Springs. And it doesn’t mean get back to the state championship game that it lost last year to Alma.

The Bears’ opponent is the Mills Comets, a team the Bears have beaten twice this season, but one that is a potential danger for any opponent any time it takes the court. The two teams will take the court at 4:15 p.m. today for the final time this season.

What’s the danger in facing Mills? Relentless defensive pressure and effective offensive transition.

“Get back,” a phrase repeated by every Sylvan Hills Bear interviewed this week, means hustle back on defense and prevent Mills from doing what they do best, score in transition.

It’s sometimes hard to convince a team there’s been any sort of shortcoming against a team its beaten twice, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for the Bears this week.

“We need to get back on defense better because (Mills) is really good at running the floor,” Sylvan Hills senior Archie Goodwin said. “We’ve beat them twice but there’s a lot more on the line and we know they’re going to be playing harder. So we have to as well.”

Sylvan Hills starting five and the first two off the bench are seniors. They all remember last year’s state title game, a 17-point loss to Alma, and have used the sting of that defeat as motivation for not allowing another disappointment this year.

“It’s just that feeling,” Bears point guard Dion Patton said. “We use that. We don’t want to work to get all the way here just to be disappointed again. That’s definitely motivation.”

It’s also experience, and experience is something this team is rich in.

“I’ve said it over and over, but having a senior laden team is a big plus for us,” Sylvan Hills coach Kevin Davis said. “Especially this group of guys. They really take in what you’re trying to get across to them and they go out and execute it. Having been here before is an advantage for us.”

Though Davis knows his team’s opponent is not totally lacking some valuable experience. First-year Mills coach Raymond Cooper has been to the championship before with North Pulaski.

“He brought a few guys with him from North Pulaski that have been through some playoff battles,” Davis said. “You add those guys to an already extremely athletic group of kids and Mills, and you can see why they’re as good as they’ve been.”

The Comets have been a team with one gear all season long. That’s partly due to its personnel. Mills has no post play to speak of. But it does have speedy guards in abundance. Full-court pressure has been modus operandi for the Comets all year, and that’s not likely to change this week, despite two losses to their title-game opponent.

“We’re not changing anything,” Cooper said. “We do what we do. It’s going to be all-out pressure for 32 minutes, 94 feet. That’s what’s got us here, we just have to do it smarter than we’ve done so far against Sylvan Hills.”

Cooper believes his players got lost in the moment at times in their two losses to the Bears, rushing things and taking poor shots.

“In both games I thought we just made too many mental mistakes,” Cooper said. “When there was nothing there in transition, too many times we’d go ahead and try to force something. Or we’d try to penetrate all the way to the rim against their big men, when we could’ve stopped and shot an open, short jumper. We just made bad decision on offense. That’s the main thing we have to correct. We don’t have anyone who can go inside against their bigs. Most of their guards are even bigger than us. We have to be smarter than that and make better decisions.”

Sylvan Hills believes if it can stop Mills transition and force the Comets to set up in a half court offense, it will be advantage Bears. Though Davis believes his squad can run with any team, he thinks he has the more complete team that can be effective in versatile ways.
“We have to focus on what they do best,” Davis said of Mills. “If we can stop what they do best, which is forcing that tempo and scoring in transition, we should be in good shape.”