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GIRLS' PREP BASKETBALL: North, E'town collide for district title (2/27)

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By Chuck Jones

By CHUCK JONES cjones@thenewsenterprise.com RADCLIFF — We meet again. For the third consecutive year, North Hardin and Elizabethtown will play for the Girls’ 17th District Tournament championship. Game time is set for 7 tonight at North Hardin’s Ron Bevars Gymnasium. This will be the 11th meeting in the last three years. Elizabethtown holds a 6-4 advantage and has won both district championship games. The teams have split the Girls’ 5th Region Tournament title games with Elizabethtown winning last year and North Hardin in 2007. “We are two completely different teams,” North Hardin coach James Slaven said. “Whichever style that wins out will win the game. We’ve played each other so many times the last three years that neither one of us is going to do anything to really surprise the other one.” Elizabethtown coach Tim Mudd agreed with Slaven’s assessment. He said his team has the same two goals every time it plays North Hardin. “We’ve got to rebound first and foremost,” Mudd said. “And we have to take care of the basketball. Those are the two keys the last five or six years (against North Hardin). Against a team like North Hardin, we’re at a huge disadvantage if we don’t do those two things.” Slaven said the Lady Panthers make it difficult on opposing teams because they do such a good job of rebounding on both ends of the court. “Defensively, they are just beasts,” Slaven said. “They don’t let you have anything for free. Offensively, they are not going to amaze you, but they just execute. And they rebound so well. They are going to limit you to one shot and they are going to get a couple of offensive rebounds. That’s been our problem against them.” The fifth-ranked Lady Trojans (24-4) have won four consecutive games and 16 of their last 17. Although they have improved by leaps and bounds the last decade, the Lady Trojans only have two district championships – 2002 and 2005 – to their credit. “We’re proud of where we are,” Slaven said. “The last five years we’ve been competitive in the district. We want to get to the point where we are consistently playing for district championships. We’ve had to change the culture around the program. I think we’re heading in the right direction, but we’re not where we want to be yet. If we want to be considered an elite program, we have to start winning district tournaments.” The second-ranked Lady Panthers (26-2) are riding a 12-game winning streak after beating Central Hardin in the district semifinals. They’ve also had winning streaks of nine and five games. The Lady Panthers are going after their 11th district title in the last 14 years. “It’s a relief to have that game (against Central Hardin) over,” Mudd said. “That’s the one you never know about. That’s a pretty good win over a quality team. It’s a quality win. I don’t think you relax. If you’re a competitor, no matter the situation, you play to win.” That’s exactly what North Hardin plans to do as it has payback on its mind. At last year’s region tournament, Elizabethtown beat the Lady Trojans on their home floor to win the title and advance to the Girls’ Sweet Sixteen. “It’s bad to lose during the postseason, but it’s 10 times worse to do it on your home floor,” Slaven said. “We’ve talked about protecting our home floor. We can’t give away home games. Last year hurt. Coming back to school on Tuesday — we played the final on a Monday night — seeing those nets gone and knowing where they were, that hurt.” Both coaches said it’s important to go into the region as a district champion. Nelson County, the region tournament host, is 25-5 this season, while Marion County and Green County each have 23 or more victories. “As a runner-up, let’s be honest you’re probably looking at facing Nelson, Marion or Green,” Slaven said. “Most years, the 17th District is clearly better than the other (districts), but that’s not the case this year. We can’t afford to have to play Nelson on their home floor in the opening game. It’s really important this year to win the district and possibly avoid some of those teams.” Chuck Jones can be reached at 505-1759