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GIRLS' 5TH REGION BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT: Lady Hawks fired up for rematch with Adair (02/27)

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By Josh Claywell

When longtime LaRue County coach Travis Wootton thinks about the last time his team faced Adair County, he can’t help but get a little fired up.

The Lady Hawks had just wrapped up the No. 1 seed for the Girls’ 18th District Basketball Tournament and were playing their third game in four nights, and Wootton said fatigue was a factor as Adair County held off LaRue County, 52-43 on Feb. 2.

Wootton said his team didn’t play like it should have, and the Lady Indians took advantage.

“We played with no energy, we were flat, we turned the ball over too much and we missed too many shots,” he said.

That can’t happen again tonight when the teams meet at 8 in the Girls’ 5th Region Basketball Tournament quarterfinals at Green County.

If it does, Wootton said you can say goodbye to the Lady Hawks (25-5).

“We’ll lose; plain and simple,” he said. “If we play like we did the last game, we’ll lose. We have to put the ball in the basket, play with more energy and not be flat.”

LaRue County didn’t do that in Columbia.

The Lady Hawks were held to 34 percent shooting (17-of-50) from the field, 2-of-13 from the arc and 7-of-16 from the foul line.

“We had a tough game against Green County, but I’m not sure what happened that night,” Wootton said. “We just weren’t able to rise to the occasion. There was no excuse. We just didn’t play well, and Adair County had a lot to do with that.”

LaRue County had no answer for 5-foot-8 senior guard Mercedes Cox, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds as the Lady Indians (24-8) won their fifth straight.

Adair County eventually won 11 in a row before falling to top-ranked Marion County in the 20th District Tournament championship.

“They’re a good team,” Wootton said. “We’ve got to play better to beat them. They’ve won 24 games, so they’re doing something right. They’re very capable. All four teams in our bracket can make it to the final.”

Limiting Cox, who’s signed with Bellarmine University, and fellow senior guard Katie Keltner – a Lindsey Wilson College signee – will be key to LaRue County’s success.

Cox entered the postseason averaging 20.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 33.1 percent from the arc and 80.6 percent from the foul line.

“Mercedes is a great outside shooter, but her ability to also take a defender off the dribble makes her very difficult to guard,” Bellarmine coach Chancellor Dugan said when she signed. “She’s a tough rebounder and does the little things that a team needs to win games.”

The 5-10 Keltner, who has scored more than 1,000 points in her career, carried averages of 16.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game into the postseason.

Cox had 17 points in the district semifinals and 10 in the final, while Keltner had six in the semis before coming back with 13 in the title game. If the Lady Hawks can keep Cox and Keltner in check, Wootton likes his team’s chances.

“We’ve got to close out on their shooters and rebound the basketball like we know we can,” he said. “They’re motivated. And revenge is a factor. They’ve been very upbeat this week in practice.”

That’s why Wootton isn’t worried about the Lady Hawks having déjà vu tonight.

He’s certain they’ll be clicking on all cylinders from the start.

“I hope they come out and play well,” he said. “It always concerns you when a team beats you. But at the same time, we’ve had time to prepare and we’re mentally fresh right now.”

Josh Claywell can be reached at (270) 505-1752 or jclaywell@thenewsenterprise.com.