It’s game day as the Lady Tigers get set to face off against the top ranked team Ryle in the KHSAA Sweet 16 first round at 7 p.m.
It’s not an unfamiliar spot for the Lady Tigers, who are making their fourth straight trip, and it’s an eerily similar first round matchup against the top-ranked team in the tournament. Last season the Lady Tigers drew Mercer County, the eventual champions, for the first round and they came up short.
This year, head coach Wyatt Foust has a game plan in mind as they sqaure off against a group of girls with which Foust is very familiar.
Foust coached a lot of the Ryle players in AAU ball when he was a head coach for the Notre Dame Pandas girls team. In fact, he was offered a position as head coach of Ryle just two years ago.
“When it (the head coaching job) came open (at Ryle) they approached me,” Foust said. “There were a lot of things that didn’t make it quite right, so I passed up on that opportunity knowing they’d be able to win a lot and win at a high level for a while.”
After passing on the opportunity, Foust took over as an assistant coach on the Owensboro Catholic boys team and awaited his next big opportunity.
“I’m glad I did because then a year later, the Murray job opened up and it was a perfect fit and this is somewhere you want to raise a family and this place just had special written all over it,” Foust said.
Now he’s taken a team that many believed would finish dead last in district play and led them to an undefeated district record while also extending the winning streak against Region 1 opponents to 62.
“Last year there was so much pressure it made it hard to enjoy; we got to enjoy the big wins, but it was always ‘Gosh now we’ve got these guys,’ and it just kind of never let up,” Foust said.
“This year there were little to no expectations for our team and we got to enjoy the wins a little more and you got to enjoy those little victories more,” Foust said. “Just to see the team come together and rally behind a unifying factor ... the disbelief everybody had in our team, it just made this year so special.”
If the Lady Tigers want to continue their special season, they will need to play their best game of the year and they know it.
“It’s going to have to be our best effort, but that’s why you’re here. That’s why you’re in this tournament, because your best effort must be pretty good,” Foust said.
Ryle and Murray High only faced one common opponent this season, Eastern, and the results were very different. The Lady Tigers suffered a loss, one of just three this season, at 64-42.
The Lady Raiders, on the other hand, defeated Eastern 73-56 and finished the season 29-5 with three losses coming to Kentucky opponents Boyd County (in the field of 16), Conner and Sacred Heart, all by single digits.
Coach Foust has a good idea about what the Lady Tigers can expect in the matchup, and they are ready to embrace the underdog status.
“They’ve heard all year long what they can’t do ... and they’re going to tell us that now,” Foust said. “They’re going to tell us that we don’t have any business beating Ryle. We’ve heard it all and when we get up there, there’s not going to be a soul in that gym that really thinks we have a chance besides us, and that’s OK. We like it that way.”
It will be a game for the ages. The Lady Raiders boast the 10th best offense in the state, averaging 66.5 points per game, while the Lady Tigers boast the second best defense in the state, giving up just 34.9 points per game. Something has to give, and based on the game plan, it’s not likely to be the defense.
“I think one thing that’s going to be huge when it’s all said and done is time of possession,” Foust said. “That’s not something you usually think about in basketball, maybe in football, but I think it’s going to be a telling thing about how the game goes.”
Slowing the game down has paid dividends for the Lady Tigers this season, especially against teams that aren’t used to playing slow.
“All of their players are big time AAU players, and that’s how they play in high school too; they try to rebound, throw an outlet, and take off and they’re not as comfortable in the half court,” Foust said. “They don’t like guarding very long and they’re just not very patient on offense.”
Defensively, the Lady Raiders will likely focus their attention on the state leader in three pointers made per game, Lizzy Curtis. This season, Curtis has attempted a state record 365 three-point shots and has made 4.1 per game despite some less than desirable performances such as the one against Eastern where she went 0-7 in the loss.
“I’d bet a couple of dollars that they’re going to face guard Lizzy and chase her around, and that’s fine. Our kids do a great job playing off of her,” Foust said. “If you want to take that away, you’re probably going to have to give up something pretty good, and we think there’s some easy opportunities out there if they do decide to face guard her, and hopefully we can expose those.”
In the game against Eastern, the Tigers did just that with Carver scoring 19 and Greer adding 14; however, the defense faltered, giving up a season high 64. That was early in the year, and since then, the Lady Tigers have settled in to the slower pace and held a great Owensboro Catholic team to 42. The final three points came on a game-winning buzzer beater that knocked the Tigers out of the All-A tournament.
Ryle features Lauren Schwartz who averages 19.7 points per game, good for 22nd in the state. She is also 12th in state in free throw percentage at 83 percent. Two others average double digits for the lady Raiders: Maddie Scherr at 15.4 and Brie Crittendon at 11.4 points per game.
“The three things that will ultimately decide if we compete in this game are: do we get back in transition, do we keep them off the glass, and do we take care of the basketball,” Foust said.
“We don’t need a bunch of smoke and mirrors. We need to get our butts down and guard people and rebound the basketball.”
For those that can’t make the trip tonight, the play-by-play broadcast will be live on 1340 WNBS-AM with Jeremy Bell and online at 1340WNBS.com, or you can follow along live on twitter @MLT_Sports for updates. n