Wednesday, March 06, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Charging Wildcats punch ticket

Leader sports editor

FAYETTEVILLE – North Little Rock got a tougher challenge than it, or anyone else, expected in its semifinal matchup with West Memphis, but the Charging Wildcats got the job done nonetheless, beating the Blue Devils 86-69 and advancing to the class 7A state championship game against Fayetteville on Saturday.

North Little Rock had beaten West Memphis twice already this season, once by 40 and once by 16, and even though Saturday’s win was by 17, it was a tougher scrap than either of the two previous games.

“I just felt like they played harder than we did in spots,” North Little Rock coach Johnny Rice said. “Especially in the first half they were just outhustling us and they were making shots. They had some guys step up and hit outside shots that they didn’t hit in our other two games.”

It was primarily one player than stepped up big for the Blue Devils. Forward Robert Bradford hit five three pointers, including three in the first half that many times came at crucial moments when it seemed the Wildcats might pull away.

The Blue Devils also kept it close in the first half by dominating the glass. West Memphis finished the game with a 45-34 rebounding advantage. The Blue Devils led four times in the first half, with the biggest lead coming at 27-24 with 90 seconds left in the second quarter.

Like so many other times this season, the Wildcats charged back to finish the half with a 9-2 run and took a 33-29 lead into the break.

“In the locker room we put two numbers on the board, 40 and 16, and said this is how much you beat them by this year,” Rice said. “Then we said if you think it’s going to be like that just because you showed up, you’re wrong. I think by halftime they knew they had to get back to what got us here. We sat every one of them down individually before the season started. We told them then, if they hand out state championships for being the best on paper, we got it. But they don’t do that. We’re going to have to play harder than they do and playtogether as a team. For the most part we’ve done that, but we didn’t do it in the first half in this game and hopefully we’ve learned something from it.”

The Charging Wildcats didn’t take long to assume control of the game in the second half. West Memphis pulled to within 37-36 in the breakneck pace that was the third quarter. North Little Rock’s sophomore guard Kevaughn Allen got back-to-back fast-break dunks to make it 41-36 with 6:18 on the clock. Senior Gary Vines then got a steal and dished to Allen for a layup that put the Wildcats up by seven in a flash.

“We came out much more focused and playing a lot harder in the second half,” Rice said. “We can’t make it a habit to wait that long to start playing though. If we start like that against Fayetteville we won’t be up by four points at halftime. I can promise you that.”

The dynamic guard tandem of Allen and Dayshawn Watkins led North Little Rock. The duo combined for 53 points with Allen dropping in 30. Vines added 14 points and senior forward Thomas Alexander added 10 for the Wildcats.

Bradford led West Memphis with 27 points while point guard Rai East and Kevin Mooney scored 11 apiece. Post player Vakemeyus Davis added 10 for the Blue Devils.

North Little Rock will face the Fayetteville Bulldogs in the state championship. Fayetteville beat West conference rival Bentonville 54-51 in the other semifinal game. The Cats and Dogs will meet at 4:15 p.m. Saturday at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock.

North Little Rock pummeled Bryant 82-44 in the quarterfinal round after the Hornets beat Cabot in OT.