Steven Simpson is 299-175 in 16 seasons with the Dragons and has led them to three region titles in the past four years.
1 Devin Young 6-3 So. 9.1 ppg
5 Isaac Fields 6-0 Sr. 8.2 ppg
11 Joe Griffin 6-1 Jr. 10.9 ppg
21 Grant Williams 5-10 Sr. 9.5 ppg
24 Trenton Bouvet 6-1 Sr. 10.7 ppg
How they got here
The Dragons are back in Rupp thanks to their unbelievable three-point shooting, setting a state record with 355 three-pointers made coming into the tournament. South Oldham is shooting 40.7 percent from deep this season and averaging 26.4 three-point attempts per game. Every player in the Dragons’ five-guard starting lineup is capable of hitting long-range shots, and their bench includes sixth-man senior Jacob Bray, who actually leads the team with 11.6 points per game and has made 76 threes this season. “Some kids won’t accept that (bench) role, but he accepted it from the beginning, and that’s really been a benefit to our team,” Simpson said. South Oldham averages nearly 75 points per game, among the tops in the state, with its run-and-gun style. “Most people really enjoy watching our team play,” Simpson said.
Third time’s the charm?
Simpson has also encouraged his previous teams to let fly from long range — “Everybody has the green light,” he says — but the results weren’t great in the Dragons’ first two trips to Rupp Arena. Those teams combined to go 13-for-57 (22.8 percent) from three-point range, losing both times to Hopkinsville by lopsided margins. The space behind the Rupp rims offers a different look than most high schoolers are accustomed to, but teams don’t get the benefit of practicing in the arena before the Sweet Sixteen. Simpson tried to get his team into the Yum Center to practice before this week’s state tournament, but those plans fell through. He says he thinks good shooters will better adjust to the new surroundings, and this team is full of them. “Hopefully we can zero in on it pretty quickly.”
Player to watch
Senior point guard Grant Williams is the guy South Oldham’s coaches trust to manage the Dragons’ up-tempo offense out on the court. “He’s our leader,” Simpson said. “When he gets going running our offense, we are much better. And he is our defensive leader, too. He’s very active on defense, reads passing lanes well and just really makes life tough for whoever he’s guarding. We kind of go as he goes, and it’s been that way most of the season.”
South Oldham is back at the state tournament for the third time after recent trips in 2013 and 2014.
Tim Riley is in his first season at Owensboro Catholic. He was 307-128 with eight region titles in 14 seasons at Warren Central, which won the state title on his watch in 2004.
1 Hayden Riney 6-0 So. 1.5 ppg
2 Maxwell Reid 5-10 So. 3.1 ppg
11 Ray Zuberer 6-0 Sr. 11.7 ppg
21 Luke Hayden 6-2 So. 16.0 ppg
24 Luke Payne 6-4 Sr. 9.7 ppg
How they got here
The Aces started the season 0-4 under their third head coach in three years, but Riley felt early on that he had the best team in the region, and that proved to be true in the end. Owensboro Catholic’s coach says he inherited a mentally tough bunch that adjusts well to different styles of play and doesn’t get rattled. Hayden is the team’s leading scorer as a sophomore. Zuberer — a multi-sport star who has signed to play baseball at Western Kentucky — provides senior leadership. The Aces will be without senior and second-leading scorer Cameron O’Bryan, who suffered a torn ACL late in the district finals. “It was a huge blow,” Riley said. “It’s made it difficult for us to figure out our roles since he’s been gone. We’re still trying to figure it out.”
Long time coming
Owensboro Catholic has had a boys’ basketball team since the school was founded in 1951. This is the first time the Aces will play in the state tournament. It was a perfect basketball marriage for the program and Riley, who left Warren Central five years ago to become an assistant coach for the WKU women’s program and spent the past two seasons as a high school coach in Tennessee. He attended last year’s Sweet Sixteen and knew that he wanted to be back in the Bluegrass State. Owensboro Catholic, which has to compete with Owensboro, Apollo and Daviess County every year in districts, has long wanted to get to Rupp. “Everybody is kind of on cloud nine right now,” Riley said. “It’s neat just to see the excitement that this team winning has brought to everybody.”
Player to watch
Hayden averages 16.0 points and 5.1 rebounds per game and was named an all-region player as a sophomore this season. “He’s a guy that we need to do a lot of stuff for us if we’re going to stay in the game with a team like (South Oldham),” Riley said. “He’s a nice athlete who shoots the ball really well. He can also put the ball on the floor and go make plays. He scores in a number of different ways.”
This is Owensboro Catholic’s first trip to the Sweet Sixteen in the 65-year history of the school.