PREP BASKETBALL: Panthers, Lady Panthers gearing up for busy holiday season (12/19)

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By Nathaniel Bryan

For most schools around the country, this weekend marks the start of Christmas break as classes won’t resume for many students until Jan. 2 or 3 – or even later.

But for the Elizabethtown boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, it’s not much of a break.

Both teams begin tournament play tonight as the Lady Panthers (2-1) open with Lexington Bryan Station (1-3) in the first round of the 28-team Republic Bank Holiday Classic at Lexington Catholic.

Meanwhile in Louisville, the Panthers (4-0) will take on the host Fairdale Bulldogs (2-2) in the first round of the 16-team King of the Bluegrass.

“I don’t know how that happened, but that’s just how it works out. But I think we’ll be fine. We’ll be all right,” said Elizabethtown senior guard Ja’Von Cotton, whose Panthers are off to their best start since 2005-06.

Win or lose, the Panthers get Louisville Trinity (3-0) or Lexington Lafayette (3-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday. Game three on Sunday would be against Johnson Central (2-2), Thomas Nelson (3-1), Louisville Pleasure Ridge Park (2-1) or Lexington Henry Clay (2-2).

“We’re always up to the challenge,” Cotton said.

Nic McDonald is up to the challenge of returning to the court. The Elizabethtown senior point guard sprained his left ankle Dec. 10 in a home win against Bowling Green. He barely played Friday in a win at Central Hardin and sat out Monday’s win at Grayson County.

Wednesday was McDonald’s first full practice since the injury.

“I played through it against Bowling Green and I tried to play against Central, but it just started hurting again. It was just a sprain. It was worse than usual, but I’m fine now,” McDonald said. “It’s good to get back out there and help my teammates. They played pretty good without me, but I know we can be better with me, not trying to be selfish at all. As a whole when everyone’s healthy, we can be pretty good.”

Coach James Haire hopes a full healthy cast finally brings some continuity. The Panthers have trailed in every game but one, with most of those deficits coming early because of slow starts or foul trouble.

“We’re not playing the way we want to play right now, but at least we’re improving,” Haire said. “For some reason, we’re always trailing in the first quarter. And then we always have a big second or third quarter, but we need to be more consistent in that. And the only way for you to get more consistent is to just keep playing.”

After playing Friday night at Central Hardin in a 17th District game, the Lady Panthers will return to Lexington on Saturday to face Louisville Collegiate (2-1) or East Carter (6-0), which handed Scott County a 20-point loss this past weekend.

On Sunday, the Lady Panthers could be looking at a game with Henry Clay (2-2), Lincoln County (2-2) or Louisville Mercy (4-1), which just beat Elizabethtown on Tuesday after beating the Lady Panthers twice last season.

Next week in Florida, the Lady Panthers will be a heavy underdog in the Naples Holiday Shootout. The tournament features multiple state or class champions and several teams ranked nationally by MaxPreps.

“You’re going to play good teams whether or not you win or lose. That’s the thing that I like,” Elizabethtown girls’ coach Tim Mudd said. “And if we’re mature enough to handle it the right way and learn, whether it be from wins or losses, I think these two Christmas tournaments will be beneficial to us.

“Win or lose, you have to handle it the right way,” he added. “We’ve got to get more mentally tough. That’s the big thing for us.”

Nathaniel Bryan can be reached at 270-505-1758 or nbryan@thenewsenterprise.com.