Scott County Coach Billy Hicks has agonized through some classic Sweet Sixteen semifinals with his Cardinals, including a heart-stopping win over Lexington Catholic in 1998 and a tense overtime victory against Paducah Tilghman in 1999.
There was a lot less anxiety for Hicks in Scott County's 56-43 victory over Oldham County in the semifinals of the 95th PNC/KHSAA Boys' State Basketball Tournament in front of 11,409 fans in Rupp Arena on Saturday afternoon.
In fact, Scott County had such a comfortable lead (47-26) that Hicks, looking ahead to Saturday's night showdown with No. 1 Trinity, put his starters on the bench at the end of three quarters.
Trouble was, Oldham County didn't go along with Hicks' plan to rest his first five. Hicks had decided that if the Cards' lead shrunk to 14, the starters would go back in.
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That's what happened after Oldham County rallied to within 51-37 with 4:27 left.
Even after Tamron Manning, Isaiah Ivey and Co. returned to the court, Oldham County battled back to within 12 before the Cards stymied the comeback.
"Once a team gets that momentum, you don't just run out there and stop it, even with your starters," Hicks said. "That's a credit to Oldham County, how tough those kids are and how they battled."
Colonels Coach Jason Holland said he didn't want his players to look back in 20 years and remember that they gave up.
Junior guard Sam Gruber agreed. "That's a terrible memory if we do quit after making it all the way to the final four," he said. "It's not in our nature to roll over. We've got to keep going."
After leading 23-16 at halftime, Scott County scored the first 11 points of the third quarter, part of a 20-2 run that all but sealed the Cards' 34th victory of the season.
Trent Gilbert and Jalen Haddix led the way with 12 points apiece. Manning and Ivey each had 10 points. Ivey also had eight rebounds.
Scott County had 22 turnovers, a season-high according to Hicks. But the Cards compensated by outrebounding Oldham County 32-17 and by shooting 6-for-11 from three-point range.
Kerry Smith led the Colonels with 17 points and Gruber had 11. Tyler Wesley was limited to three points and one rebound.
Oldham County's 31 victories tied the school record. It made the semifinals for the third time in school history.
"It's a long week but a great week," Holland said of the Sweet Sixteen experience. "Hopefully we made some great memories for our guys."