Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

SPORTS >>Lions’ size down low a concern

Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke Jackrabbits will be making their first finals appearance since 2003 tomorrow afternoon at the Summit Arena in Hot Springs, as they take on a physically charged Hamburg team.

The Lions (23-8, No. 1 4A South reg.) skipped through last week’s state tournament in Dumas, beating Stuttgart in the quarterfinal round 64-53 on Thursday before a 59-32 rout over Dardenelle in Saturday’s semifinal game.

The Jackrabbits (29-5, No. 1 4A East reg.) had a tougher time on their way through the final bracket, holding off McGehee in the quarterfinals for a 72-63 win, and watched Arkansas Baptist rally to within a single point during the semifinals on Saturday before pulling out a 55-45 win.

The Jackrabbits played against Pulaski Academy in the 2003 state championship game in the 3A classification, but had to settle for runners-up. It is also noteworthy to mention that for the first time in school history, both the Jackrabbits and Lady Jackrabbits will compete in the state title game during the same year.

According to Hamburg coach Bert Martin, there is no single leading scorer, but rather five starters all capable of putting up similar numbers. He says all of his starters average double digits.

The year may have been balanced, but last week’s games for the Lions were all about Quinton Pippen and Javarus Curtis. Pippen led with 18 points in the win over Stuttgart, as the two shared the honors in Saturday’s blowout over Dardanelle with 17 points each.

“We started out the season without three of our strongest players,” Martin said. “We were super-dependant on Jarvarus then. Since the first of the year we got our kids back, and we’ve been able to have a more balanced attack.”

Martin admitted to knowing very little about the Jackrabbits team. He said he doesn’t have to know a ton of specifics when it comes to Lonoke, he just knows the reputation of the head ’Rabbit, and says that is enough to put fear in anyone.

“I watched them that Friday night,” Martin said. “But no, I haven’t seen or heard much from them this year. I know coach (Wes) Swift, and I’ve seen him coach in the past. They have a good ball team. They have those big kids at the post that they can change out and not lose anything, and they are solid with their guards.”

Lonoke’s win over Arkansas Baptist marked the 17th straight win for the Jackrabbits.
Their most recent loss came at the hands of Newport on Jan. 3, a team they went on to beat four times in a total of five games.

Junior guard Michael Howard serves as leading scorer for the Jackrabbits, averaging a little more than 16 points per game. The ’Rabbits are led defensively by the senior combo of guard Bradley Spencer and forward Tyrone Dobbins, but either player has the capability of 20-plus point performances on the offensive side if the situation calls for it. At post, junior Juice Lambert serves as starter, but freshman Myles Taylor plays about as many minutes on a normal night. Taylor is more aggressive and is capable of more points, but Lambert’s touch on the inside is normally enough to keep him out of foul trouble over the less experienced Taylor.

If the Lions hold the edge on size, Lonoke’s most likely advantage will be its deep bench. Along with post player Taylor, Pierre Smith, along with Lance and Tony Jackson, can defend about as well as their starting counterparts. There is no breakout scoring threat in their 6-9 players, but they have been known to give up even less on the defensive side than that of Dobbins and company.

“There are actually a lot of keys to this game,” Lonoke coach Wes Swift said. “But I think the biggest thing is how physical a team they are. They are really good rebounders; they’re big and strong, and can stall the offensive boards.”
Swift hopes that the speed-over-power scenario will be successful for just one more game.

“Offensively, we are going to try to set up and puncture their zone,” Swift said. “We want to try and score quick before they can get their defense set. We can’t let them get set and then try to jack a three pointer, it just won’t work.”

The Lions and Jackrabbits will kick off the tournament on Thursday at 3:30 p.m.