Main event comes early in tournament

It seems a bit of a travesty that the potential heavyweight fight of the Houchens Industries Girls' Sweet Sixteen is being played in the undercard spot.

Thanks to an annual blind draw, several potential championship-caliber games will play out in the state tournament's first round Wednesday and Thursday in Bowling Green's E.A. Diddle Arena.

The most anticipated of those matchups will be No. 1 versus No. 2 in Thursday's opening round.

That's when top-ranked Elizabethtown will meet Lexington Christian.

Knowing that you can't go back and draw again, LCA Coach Jason Seamands said it best: "It is what it is.

"Whoever wins this game is going to have to play its best," Seamands said. "You can't go in there and play a so-so game and slip by. ... Neither one of us has that luxury."

But the coach chooses to look at it in a more optimistic way. At least each team will be at its prime for this prizefight.

"You get three days to prepare," he said. "Both teams will come in healthy, well rested, fresh legs, all those things."

When asked, most of the 16 coaches pointed to the top two teams, as well as No. 6 Iroquois with its tourney-best 29-1 record, as the teams to beat this week.

"I'd guess one of those three," said Janie Robinson, coach of ninth-ranked Montgomery County. "As well as LCA's playing, I wouldn't bet against Jason and those girls right now. But I know E-town is awfully good. I got a chance to see Iroquois on Saturday and they're probably the most athletic girls' team I've maybe ever seen."

Iroquois has Miss Basketball candidate and University of Kentucky signee Adia Mathies, but it has a tough first-round bout against No. 17 Franklin-Simpson, a team it has beaten twice this season.

Iroquois Coach Al Northington is trying to focus on the one team he can control: his own.

"It's pressure time for everybody," he said. "Whether you're the favored or unfavored, it's pressure and about who handles the pressure the best. We'll be ready as best we can."

But no coach is ruling out the other 13 teams in the field.

"At this stage, E-Town and LCA are the two leaders," Casey County Coach Randy Salyers said. "But even though they are the two favorites, the top five in the state are not that much better than the top 15 to 20."

Panthers Coach Tim Mudd agreed.

"This year may be one of those years that somebody you don't think of kind of sneaks up and wins this thing," he said. "You're going to have to be pretty tough to win it. It's going to be survival of the fittest, and that's going to make a great state tournament."

Elizabethtown, which beat LCA by 13 points in December, has the top ranking because of the schedule it has played. Its post-season road to Diddle Arena reads like a Who's Who of state greats.

In the district and region, the Panthers had to beat fourth-ranked North Hardin, No. 3 Nelson County and No. 12 Marion County.

Twelve teams in the top 25 of Dave Cantrall's final Rating the State advanced to the tournament. Those teams are sprinkled throughout the bracket and would love to be the one to pull the upset.

Included in that group are No. 8 Casey County, No. 9 Montgomery County, No. 10 Henderson County, No. 15 Ohio County, No. 17 Franklin-Simpson, No. 21 Rowan County, No. 22 Marshall County, No. 23 Simon Kenton and No. 25 Boone County.

"We're not picked to win, so we'll be the underdog and be glad of it," said Robinson, whose Indians drew one of the biggest potential spoilers in unranked Louisville Christian.

The Centurions, behind University of Louisville commitment Antonita Slaughter, upset both No. 7 Manual and No. 11 Sacred Heart in the region tournament en route to the state tournament.

But the coaches warned no team should expect an easy knockout in this event.

"Any one of the 16 teams can win," Northington said. "Whoever gets hot right now is going to win. I won't be surprised if any one of the 16 teams wins."