The opening round of the Mingua Beef Jerky Girls Sweet Sixteen Basketball Tournament features two of the better teams in the state going up against one another in the opening round.
Southwestern and Anderson County, who have a combined record of 46-5, will square off in the first round of the state tourney at Rupp Arena in a ballgame that is slated to be a good one.
The Southwestern Lady Warriors advanced to Rupp Arena after taking down Mercer County, 62-56, in the 12th Region Girls Tournament. Junior Molden's squad comes into the state tourney with a record of 20-3.
Anderson County, the champion out of the 8th Region, earned a trip to state after blasting past Spencer County, 53-23. The Lady Bearcats' record heading into their matchup with Southwestern is 26-2.
The Lady Bearcats have been one of the state's top teams all season long, so they are not only favored to beat Southwestern but are a favorite to win the state championship. Anderson County has spent much of this season preparing for the state tourney, but the Lady Warriors are hoping to make it a short stay for the team out of the 8th Region.
"Anderson County has been a state favorite all year long," Molden explained. "They've been on a special run this year, and they've even played back-to-back games on Saturdays to prepare for a state championship Saturday -- that's how far they've been looking ahead. They are going into it as a tourney favorite, but that doesn't mean that we can't compete with them.
It's no secret that Southwestern is the underdog coming into Wednesday's tilt at Rupp Arena, and that is quite okay with the second-year Lady Warrior basketball head coach. Molden and the rest of the coaching staff are going to put in a game plan to help slow down the Lady Bearcats.
"After watching them, I think that if we can take care of the ball, we've got a shot to do some things to put the pressure on them," Molden continued. "If we can do that and keep the game close late, I've got faith in my team that we'll compete for a win. Even with the odds stacked against us, I've got faith in my team."
The Lady Bearcats and Lady Warriors are about even when it comes to scoring points. Anderson County averages 64.9 points per game, while Southwestern scores an average of 64 points per contest.
Anderson County is paced Amiya Jenkins, who leads the team with 17.5 points per game (PPG). Three players are nearly averaging double figures -- Tiffani Riley (9.2 PPG), Sophie Smith (8.8 PPG), and Jacie Chesser (8.7 PPG).
For Southwestern, Alexa Smiddy (15.1 PPG) and Kaylee Young (10.1 PPG) are the lone players in double figures. Kinsley Molden (9.8 PPG), Marissa Loveless (7.3 PPG), and Ayden Smiddy (7.1 PPG) will also provide some scoring for the Lady Warriors.
Each team has a winning streak of some kind coming into the opening round of the Sweet 16. The Lady Bearcats have won eight straight ballgames after back-to-back losses to Ryle and Boyd County, while Southwestern has reeled off 12 consecutive victories after a loss to Wayne County on February 1st.
The winner of the Anderson County-Southwestern game will go on to play the victor of the Franklin County-South Laurel contest in the Elite Eight round. Southwestern has played three teams this season that advanced to the state tournament -- Franklin County, South Laurel, and Marshall County. The Lady Warriors lost to Franklin County in their season opener, but they went on to later defeat both South Laurel and Marshall County.
Anderson County and Southwestern are scheduled to square off on Wednesday, April 7th, at 8 p.m. at Rupp Arena. For more information on how to watch, listen, or purchase tickets for the ballgame, please visit khsaa.org.