Imagine a championship contender, with one arm tied behind his back, still having the moxie to slug his way to victory in a big prize fight.
That was Scott County's basketball team in the PNC/KHSAA Boys' State Tournament on Friday night.
Playing without one of its two Division I signees most of the game, the Cardinals still KO'd John Hardin 61-40 in the quarterfinals of the Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena.
Scott County advances to the final four for the seventh time since 1998, in pursuit of its third state title. It will play Oldham County (30-5) in Saturday morning's semifinals.
The Cards managed to win convincingly even though senior star and Marshall signee Tamron Manning sat out most of the game in foul trouble.
He picked up two personals in the first 55 seconds and went to the bench. He returned to the court to start the second quarter but, two minutes later, was whistled for another foul and sat again.
"That's why basketball is a team game," Coach Billy Hicks said. "Late in the third quarter, Tamron Manning had played only three minutes."
Josh Harris, another senior starter, also went to the bench early with two fouls.
"That's why it's a team game — other guys stepped up," Hicks said.
Isaiah Ivey, a Gardner-Webb signee, stuffed his stat line with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Sophomore Trent Gilbert had 11 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore point guard Quin Richardson had 11 points.
Off the bench, Scott County got contributions from Jalen Haddix (seven points) and Zach Bryant (four points).
Seth Crank, who hasn't seen much varsity time all season, was pressed into duty in the first half and got a big put-back.
"And we still played good defense during that stretch," Hicks said proudly.
"The remarkable thing was, we built a 12-point lead at the half without Tamron or Josh."
John Hardin, led by 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior Daveon Greene, made a run in the third quarter and cut the deficit to 33-29.
"I was proud of the way we came back, but we probably wore ourselves out a little being more aggressive," Coach Mark Wells said.
Scott County regained control and went on a 13-5 flurry to pull away to its 33rd win of the season.
Wells said "any coach playing Scott County" would like "getting a kid like (Manning) off the floor early in the game. But obviously, they had other kids who could step up and make plays."
Scott County shot well, hitting 48 percent (22-for-45) from the field and 13-for-18 from the foul line.
John Hardin, on the other hand, couldn't find the basket. It shot 29 percent (15-for-52), including 2-for-15 from three-point range.
Greene led the Bulldogs with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Brandon Price had 10 points.
"It was frustrating," Wells said. "We've been a good three-point-shooting team all year. I felt we were executing well and got open shots but just weren't able to knock them down."
Instead, Scott County knocked out the Bulldogs with a team effort.
Ivey said that without Manning, the Cards' second-leading scorer and top rebounder, "we had to score and rebound as a group."
And Scott County's "team" is headed to the final four.
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com