That giant sigh of relief heard Sunday afternoon was the relief of six coaches and their teams’ fans that they won’t open the State Girls’ Basketball Championships against the nation’s top team, Blackman.
Perhaps the biggest relief came from Mt. Juliet coach Chris Fryer, whose Lady Bears drew Riverdale twice in recent seasons when the Lady Warriors went on to win the championship.
“We might have been the second best team there,” Fryer said of the Caya Williams-led teams of 2010 and ’12. “Jefferson County may be a top-10 team in the nation, but they’re not the No. 1 team in the nation.”
Mt. Juliet will face Jefferson County at 1:15 p.m. today at Middle Tennessee State’s Murphy Center in Murfreesboro with the winner advancing to Friday’s 11:30 a.m. semifinal against the Blackman [31-1]-Houston [26-7] winner, which will play right after the Lady Bears.
Jefferson County, in the state for the first time in some three decades, is 22-11. The Lady Patriots play a similar style to Rossview and Franklin, Mt. Juliet’s two most recent opponents.
“Real similar to Franklin as far as their style of basketball,” Fryer said of the Lady Patriots. “They have a couple of big girls, about 5-11. They run more of a perimeter-type game where they’re shooting a lot of threes and driving and penetrating to the basket.
“We definitely have a size advantage in the post. Our post people are definitely going to have to guard some people who are mobile.”
That’s not new for the Lady Bears, who line up three girls six feet or taller, meaning at least one, if not two, have had to guard smaller players throughout a 29-1 season. But Fryer said the teams in District 9-AAA are different from Rossview, which lost to Mt. Juliet in the Region 5-AAA final before advancing to state from a road sectional win at Overton, and Franklin, which lost at MJ by 18 last Saturday.
“The teams in our district, Wilson Central and Beech, they penetrated and kicked out and shot the three real well,” Fryer said. “The teams we’ve played lately, like Rossview and Franklin, they’re driving and doing more interior-type passing. We’ve got to rotate really well on defense.
“We didn’t do a very good job against Rossview and that’s why we went to a 2-3 zone.”
While Mt. Juliet has been dominant all season long with only a home loss to Riverdale in early December before a current 24-game winning streak, Jefferson County has been hot in the postseason.
“They’ve played some good basketball,” Fryer said of the Lady Patriots. “Their district and region tournaments were at home and they beat a Farragut team a lot of people thought would be in the state. They’re a good basketball team and have the pieces to beat you. So you got to go out and play your best basketball.
“When you get to this point in the season, everyone is playing good basketball or they wouldn’t be there.”
This is Mt. Juliet’s 14th state appearance since 1977 and Fryer’s seventh, which includes the 2005 championship, which is the Lady Bears’ third. MJ is seeking its first win at Murphy Center since beating Dyersburg in the ’05 final.
“It’s a three-game deal,” Fryer said. “You want to have the mindset you want to go out there and win one at a time.”