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Anderson County's quest for a Sweet 16 berth faces a major hurdle in the opening round of the Eighth Region Tournament. The Bearcats will play 31st District champion Gallatin County on Thursday, March 6, at 6:30 p.m.
All tournament games will be held at Henry County High School in New Castle.
Although Anderson stumbled in the 30th District championship game, losing to Shelby County 73-61, Kentucky's postseason rules allow district winners and runners-up to advance to the regional tournament.
"We still have an opportunity (to win the region)," Anderson coach Glen Drury said Saturday night. "We want to see how well we can play in the regional tournament."
Thursday's matchup could be considered the marquee game of a very evenly balanced first round. Anderson has been ranked No. 1 or 2 in the region for most of the season with Gallatin hovering around No. 4 or 5 in the computer polls. Both the Courier-Journal Litkenhous Ratings and the Rating the State poll that appears in the Lexington Herald-Leader have the Bearcats listed as seven-point favorites.
Anderson defeated Gallatin 68-59 on Dec. 22 in Lawrenceburg.
However, Drury has said many times through the year that Gallatin (22-7) presents a major challenge for his team. "They play five guards and they cause a lot of matchup problems," he said prior to district play.
Another factor that makes Gallatin such a dangerous team is the Wildcats' balance. While senior Trent Maddox is generally considered the Wildcats' top gun, David Henson, Taylor Jones and Jared Carlton can all light up the scoreboard. Maddox and Jones can be lethal at the free throw line where both are hitting better than 75 percent.
Gallatin captured the region's All-A championship and advanced to the second round of the small school state tournament where the Wildcats lost to eventual runner-up Hazard.
Coach Jon Jones has turned Gallatin into a perennial force in the region despite an enrollment of approximately 450 students, making the school one of the region's smallest. Anderson, by contrast, has over 1,200 students.
A year ago, Gallatin shocked many fans in the state with a first round knockout of 30th District runner-up Shelby County, a school with over 1,700 students. It was Gallatin's first regional tournament win since 1959, when Jock Sutherland coached the Wildcats. Sutherland later gained fame coaching a state champion at Lafayette before becoming the color commentator on Louisville Cardinal radio broadcasts.
Anderson will have its work cut out for it to keep Gallatin from knocking one of the big boys out for the second straight year.
Region looks balanced
If the computer rankings are correct, the top four teams in the region should advance to the semifinal round, to be held Monday, March 10. The championship game is set for the next night.
North Oldham, which has won 11 of its last 13 and is perhaps the hottest team in the region now, is the first round's biggest favorite over Walton-Verona. They will play in Thursday's second game.
Wednesday's upper bracket quarter-finals present a pair of very interesting games as Shelby County takes on an under-rated Owen County team that has quietly put together an 18-9 season and Simon Kenton is a slight favorite over South Oldham.
Parking around Henry County High School
Construction around Henry County High School has caused some concern among fans wondering if school can handle the volume of traffic expected to descend on the 6,000-seat gym, one of Kentucky's largest.
Henry County athletic director Todd Gilley says that all will run as usual. "The construction looks more entailed than it really is," Gilley says. "The only parking that was lost was the parking passes. This has been moved to another location."
Still, fans are advised to allow extra time, given the construction and the perception that the region is the most wide open it has been in years, giving several schools and their fan bases hope for a Sweet 16 berth.