Sweet Sixteen fan hits nothing but net on half-court shot
Your turn, ladies.
The 58th KHSAA Sweet Sixteen Girls’ Sweet Sixteen tips off Wednesday, and for the first time in its history will do so in Rupp Arena.
There’s plenty to see at this year’s state tournament. Here are 16 facts to get you up to speed:
1. Lexington is hosting the girls for the first time since 1932, which was the last season of KHSAA sponsorship of the championship before it was revived in 1975. The winner of that 1932 championship was Woodburn, a Warren County school that defeated Paintsville, 25-20, for its second of back-to-back championships. The Hornets went 61-0 over the course of those two seasons. Fire destroyed Woodburn and Rich Pond, which prompted consolidation with another Bowling Green school, Rockfield, to form the original South Warren High School in 1942. That school closed in 1950 and became part of what is now Warren Central; a new South Warren opened in 2010.
2. Four newcomers have crashed this year’s party: Bethlehem, Collins, North Laurel and Southwestern all will play in the state tournament for the first time. Bethlehem’s the biggest surprise — the Banshees, unranked in the top 25, knocked out No. 3 Elizabethtown, a perennial contender, in the 5th Region championship game, 63-47. The tiny Bardstown private school could be in the mix over the next few seasons — their top two leading scorers, Amelia Hodges (15.4 points) and Ella Thompson (12.2), are both sophomores. Thompson also leads the team in rebounding at 10.1 per game.
3. Fans who’d prefer a seeded event over the KHSAA’s random draw can take some solace in the tournament’s opening matchup, which pits Scott County — ranked No. 1 in the Cantrall Ratings with a 33-1 record — against Knott County Central (25-7), who’s rated 16th in the field. Those same fans will be equally angry about a Thursday afternoon pairing of 7th Region champ Male, ranked third and just 0.5 points behind Scott County, and No. 4 Boyd County, representing the 16th Region for the third year in a row.
4. The tournament pairings as a whole, from a ranking perspective, are lopsided. Six of the state’s top-10 teams — No. 1 Scott County, No. 2 Ryle, No. 6 Clark County, No. 7 Bethlehem, No. 8 Mercy Academy and No. 10 Owensboro Catholic — will play on the first day and are all in the top portion of the bracket. Two of their tournament runs will be over by Wednesday night: Bethlehem debuts against Owensboro Catholic and GRC opens against Mercy, last year’s state runner-up.
5. Owensboro Catholic is in the tournament for the third time over the last four seasons. The Aces in their six previous Sweet Sixteen trips have not advanced beyond the quarterfinals, but this group has the distinction of having won the All “A” Classic state tournament back in January. They defeated Murray, the only other Sweet Sixteen qualifier, in the quarterfinals of that event before advancing past Owensboro Catholic and Walton-Verona, whom Collins upset in the 8th Region tournament.
6. Senior Jeian Hayes completed an old-fashioned three-point play to put Collins ahead, 45-42, with 7.1 seconds left in its surprise victory over Simon Kenton in the 8th Region finals. Hayes (12.4 points) is the Titans’ second-leading scorer behind junior Olivia Federle (19.2). Mary-Clare Megibben, another senior, is a defensive force down low — she averages 10.4 rebounds and 5.4 blocks per game.
7. Clark County represents the 10th Region for the third straight season. A trio of Division I-bound athletes lead the Cardinals: Tennessee-Martin signee Hayley Harrison is the high-point girl with 15.7 per game while Kennedy Igo, a junior who’s committed to Northern Kentucky, is right behind her at 14.5 points. Maleaha Bell, who’s signed with Eastern Kentucky, averages 9.1 points and along with Harrison averages five rebounds a night.
8. Boyd County last year made its deepest run at state, falling to Mercy in the semifinals. Reigning Miss Basketball Savannah Wheeler will lead a third straight effort by the Lions. The Marshall University signee leads the state in scoring (29.6 points) and the Lions are undefeated against in-state competition with her on the floor (she was sidelined in a 52-35 loss at Ashland Blazer on Dec. 1). Boyd County won the Traditional Bank Holiday Classic after defeating Ryle and Highlands on consecutive nights in mid-December. Sophomore Harley Paynter (16.0 points and 7.1 rebounds) could challenge for Miss Basketball honors herself in two years.
9. Mercy and Scott County are the only two teams in the field that have won a state championship. Mercy’s won twice — in 1992 and 2010 — while the Cardinals have one title to their name, earned in 1995. North Laurel’s here for the first time but Laurel County — the school that split into it and South Laurel in 1992 — was girls’ basketball royalty; Laurel County won five titles, tied for the most in state history with Ashland Blazer (which won five times in nine years from 1921-1929) and Butler, which boasts the most recent championship of the group after winning it all in 2016.
10. It’s among the teams that have a legit shot at making a title run but Mercy enters with the most losses of any team in the field at 16-14 overall. The Jaguars lost to Bullitt East in the 24th District championship before reeling off three straight in the 6th Region tournament, just the third time this season they put together a streak of three games or better (their best was a four-game stretch from Dec. 9-21). Mercy lost seven of its final nine games in the regular season. If they were to make it back to the final and win it all, the Jaguars’ 20 wins would be the fewest in the modern era and least since Hazard won state with a 15-6 record in 1930. Their 14 losses would be the most by any state champion, eclipsing the 2010 Mercy team, which finished 27-8.
11. Miss Basketball finalist and Tennessee Tech signee Maaliya Owens leads top-ranked Scott County, the top-scoring team in the state at 81.1 points per game (second-place South Laurel, 75.5 points, didn’t make it; Boyd County’s third at 72.5). The Cardinals have also drubbed their opponents by a state-best average of 31.1 points. Scott County’s only loss this season came at the hands of Lincoln County, the 12th Region favorite whom Southwestern eliminated in the region semis (the Cardinals defeated that same Southwestern squad by 28 points a couple weeks before falling to the Patriots).
12. Murray extended its run of Sweet Sixteen trips to four straight after 1st Region favorite Graves County in the region semis fell to Marshall County, against whom the Tigers improved to 4-0 this season after a 38-29 title victory. Murray lost a great deal to graduation in the last couple years but boasts the state’s top three-pointer shooter in Elizabeth Curtis, who makes 4.1 per game, and two of the state’s sharpest overall shooters in Calli Carver (59.5 percent) and Parker Greer (54.5), who’s signed with Murray state to play soccer.
13. Ryle junior Maddie Scherr was named Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year last week. Scherr is among the most hotly-recruited prospects nationally in the 2020 class; she has reported offers from more than a dozen schools, including Oregon, Louisville and Kentucky. She averages 15.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 3.2 assists and 1.4 blocks for the Raiders, who are here for the second year in a row after having never made it before. Scherr isn’t Ryle’s only Division I star; center Lauren Schwartz, the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder, was a Miss Basketball finalist and has signed with Rice University.
14. No school ended as wide a gap between Sweet Sixteen appearances as Pikeville, which for the first time since 1980 will play in the girls’ tournament. Kristy Orem, who coached Fleming County to seven 20-win seasons during a 16-year stretch, took over at Pikeville in 2016 and guided them to three straight 20-win seasons. The Panthers’ 27-7 record this season is their best since the 1980 team, which entered the Sweet Sixteen 30-0 before falling to eventual champion Butler in the first round.
15. Barren County had the second-longest drought between appearances; the Trojanettes last played in the 2007 Sweet Sixteen. Their deepest run was in the first state tournament after Title IX — Barren County fell to Butler, 60-43, in the 1975 championship game. This year’s edition finished with a program-record 31 wins after defeating Bowling Green for the 4th Region title. Head coach Piper Lindsey, who helped lead Barren County to the 2004 Sweet Sixteen as a player, was the Trojanettes’ third coach in as many years when she took over in 2015 (two months after leading Mason County to the state semifinals that year).
16. Eastern Kentucky signee Jada Higgins will play in her third straight Sweet Sixteen with Knott County Central. Higgins, a Miss Basketball finalist, averages 17.4 points for the Patriots, who qualified for state after falling to Letcher County Central in the 53rd District tournament; they avenged that defeat, 54-49 in overtime, in the 14th Region final 11 days later.
What: Girls’ high school basketball state tournament
When: Wednesday through Sunday
Where: Rupp Arena
Radio: All games on WWRW-FM 105.5 in Lexington and on numerous stations across the state
Video livestream: All games available on NFHSNetwork.com (subscription required)
Tickets: $17-$21 (Available at Rupp Arena Box Office or online at Ticketmaster.com or KHSAA.org)
Sweet Sixteen schedule
(Games listed in bracketed order)
Noon: Knott Co. Central (25-7) vs. Scott Co. (33-1)
1:30 p.m.: Owensboro Catholic (27-7) vs. Bethlehem (29-4)
6:30 p.m.: Clark Co. (24-10) vs. Mercy (16-14)
8 p.m.: Ryle (29-5) vs. Murray (28-3)
Noon: Pikeville (27-7) vs. Barren Co. (31-4)
1:30 p.m.: Male (22-7) vs. Boyd Co. (28-4)
6:30 p.m.: Collins (23-12) vs. Southwestern (24-5)
8 p.m.: North Laurel (30-6) vs. Henderson Co. (18-8)
Quarterfinal games at noon, 1:30, 6:30 and 8 p.m.
Semifinal games at 6:30 and 8 p.m.
Championship game at 2 p.m.
Sweet Sixteen Cantrall Ratings
1. Scott County (33-1), 88.5
2. Ryle (29-5), 88.1
3. Male (22-7), 88.0
4. Boyd County (28-4), 86.5
5. Southwestern (24-5), 82.8
6. Clark County (24-10), 82.0
7. Bethlehem (29-4), 80.8
8. Mercy Academy (16-14), 80.7
9. North Laurel (30-6), 79.7
10. Owensboro Catholic (27-7), 79.7
11. Barren County (31-4), 79.0
12. Henderson County (18-8), 78.8
13. Murray (28-3), 75.6
14. Collins (23-12), 74.4
15. Pikeville (27-7), 71.9
16. Knott County Central (25-7), 64.8