SPORTS >> Conway outmans Cabot in opener
By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor
Cabot coach Jerry Bridges pulled up a courtside chair during halftime of the girls game Friday night and watched the Conway boys, Cabot’s opponent in two more quarters, conduct their shoot around.
“If they put him down on the block, I’m in trouble,” said Bridges, warily eyeing Conway’s 6-5 senior forward Preston Purifoy.
Guess what happened?
Purifoy, banging inside, scored 19 points and Conway ran away to a 77-47 victory that came by way of the high school mercy rule. It was the 7A-Central Conference opener for both teams.
Bridges recalled a similar beating on the road, but it was his worst home loss since he took over in 2004.
“The last game of the year at Russellville my third year here, but not in this gym,” Bridges said. “It’s embarrassing.”
The Panthers were within 17-16 when Karsten Powers made two free throws with 4:14 left in the second quarter.
But Purifoy scored 11 points in the quarter as the Wampus Cats took a 36-20 halftime lead. Purifoy took the ball inside and got to the free-throw line for five of his second-quarter points.
“The animal,” Bridges said in his post game interview. “I’m open for suggestions as to who you all think I ought to have guarding him. My guys can’t match with him.”
But Bridges already knew beating Conway was going to be a tall order. Watching film of Conway’s game against Springdale Har-Ber, Bridges said he never saw Purifoy post up, but knew that if he did, Cabot would have its hands full.
Once Purifoy was established around the basket, Conway junior Micah Delph erupted to score 16 of his 18 points in the third quarter. Delph hit four three-pointers in the period as the Wampus Cats took a 64-38 lead into the fourth quarter.
Conway’s Kenyon McNeaill scored eights points in the first quarter before taking a hard fall, banging his hip and elbow.
Conway coach James Bates said the bumps and bruises turned McNeaill into an offensive catalyst.
“I think the one that made it all happen is McNeaill,” Bates said. “He kind of hit hard on his elbow and hip there in the first half and quit looking to score, but he had a bunch of assists and got us going. When those three are all playing well we’ve been really good and tonight was a night to get a good start in conference play.”
Even with half a McNeaill, defending Conway was still a coach’s headache, Bridges said. A double team on Purifoy, or anyone else, was not an option.
“Do we double down on him and let him kick out to Delph and McNeaill, who can knock them down?” Bridges said.
Bridges said Cabot didn’t help itself by giving in to the Wampus Cats’ tempo.
“We’ve got to try do a better job of not letting them speed us up,” Bridges said. “And boy my little guards were just going bananas at the get-go.”
McNeaill made Conway’s first three-point attempt and it never trailed, and with Cabot playing catch-up the entire game, the best thing the Panthers could have hoped for was a few missed shots by the Wampus Cats.
“If they’re not making shots they can’t get into their fullcourt pressure because that’s where they speed you up, and it is relentless,” Bridges said of Conway. “But we played hard; my guys didn’t quit.”
Cabot’s Alex Baker made four three-pointers and led Cabot (6-6, 0-1) with 16 points. Darin Jones added nine.