When Bradley Central and Lebanon renewed their old state tournament history two years ago, the Lady Bears were billed as a grind-it-out defensive oriented team which defeated the Devilettes 34-26 en route to their sixth state championship.
The offenses opened up some last year when Lebanon beat Bradley for the first time on the state’s biggest stage 51-42.
This year, Bradley has built a 27-1 record with a number of blowouts. The Lady Bears have scored more than 90 points twice, finished in the 80s twice and the 70s five times. They have won close games against better opponents, including 36-31 over Oakland in last week’s sectional.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a defensive battle like it has been the last two years,” Lebanon coach Cory Barrett said following the Devilettes’ sectional win over Cane Ridge last Saturday. “I think the most fundamental disciplined team will probably win the ballgame.”
To acclimate the Devilettes to the shooting background at Murphy Center, site of today’s 2:30 p.m. quarterfinal game, Barrett took them to Tennessee Tech’s Eblen Center on Tuesday for practice. Afterward, he expounded on the theme of the game.
“Both teams are really good defensively,” he said. “I think both teams will take away the other team’s primary options.
“It’ll come down to adjustments, execution. It’ll come down to fundamentals — rebounding, defending, taking care of the basketball.”
From the battles of yesterday of teams coached by legends like Jim Smiddy and Campbell Brandon to the modern matchups with Barrett and Bradley’s Jason Reuter calling the shots, the two programs have rekindled the rivalry which was previously at its peak during the game’s 6-on-6 halfcourt era. The Lady Bears’ title two years ago was their first of the modern 5-on-5 style of play which began in 1979. In other words, neither team will be satisfied to just be on the Monte Hale/Jimmy Earle Arena floor, nor will either be in awe of the other.
“We want to go win the game,” said Barrett, whose Devilettes have 28 victories on the books this season in 32 decisions. “We’re a team now that wants to go win the game instead of trying not to lose.”
Whoever does win the game will face either Hardin County or Bearden at 7 p.m. Friday in the semifinals. The championship game is set for 5 p.m. Saturday with Arlington (pending a judge’s decision allowing the Lady Tigers into the tournament after TSSAA removed them last week following a postgame incident during the region tournament), Blackman, Page and Maryville in the other bracket.