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BOWLING GREEN -- Ever since the first statewide rankings for girls' high school basketball came out around Jan. 1, the only question people have asked is "Who is No. 2?"
They knew Marion County would be No. 1. The Lady Knights have been perched atop the Top 10, Top 25 or whatever number you want to use since the start of practice on Oct. 15 – actually before that – and have given no reason for anyone to think otherwise.
But Anderson County will take its shot at the Lady Knights Saturday morning in the Houchens Industries/KHSAA Girls' Sweet 16 at Diddle Arena.
“To be the best, you have got to beat the best,” Anderson County's Makenzie Cann said after the Lady Bearcats had routed Shelby Valley, 65-23, in Friday's quarterfinal action.
Marion County seems to be on a mission to not only win the state championship but to be considered one of the all-time best in Kentucky history. The Lady Knights' 71-32 win over Montgomery County in Friday's first game was their 37th straight since losing in the final to DuPont Manual last year.
Marion came into the state tournament winning by an unbelievable 34 points a game and have posted wins over Bowling Green (64-43) and Montgomery County (71-32) in its first two tournament games. The computer rankings have Marion, ranked No. 5 nationally by USA Today, a solid favorite to end Anderson's season in the Final Four.
But the Lady Bearcats won't concede without a fight.
“I know (Marion County) is determined and I don't expect anything less than their A-plus performance tomorrow,” Anderson coach Tony Kays said. “How wide is the gap between one and two? I don't know. We will just have to come back tomorrow and find out.”
Marion features a starting lineup that includes five players who have signed with or have scholarship offers from Division I schools. Miss Basketball finalists Makayla Epps and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, both of whom will be wearing Kentucky Blue next year lead the attack. Against Montgomery, Epps scored 22 points and delivered six assists. She is the daughter of former Kentucky Wildcat and current Marion County assistant coach Anthony Epps.
Rogers poured in 16 points and pulled in 11 rebounds against Montgomery. She is the daughter of former Louisville Cardinal Tick Rogers.
Epps and Rogers are averaging 23 and 12 points a game respectively. Rogers is collecting 7.7 rebounds while Logan Powell, who scored 19 against Montgomery, is pulling down 7.5 boards a game.
Kays called Marion an “awesome team” and said, “We give them utmost respect. They are where they are for a reason.”
However, Shelby Valley coach Rodney Rowe believes Anderson has a chance. “Absolutely,” he said. “I mean they play well together and are very well-coached. They have different weapons. I think it will be an excellent matchup.”
When asked about Marion, the Anderson players brought to the post-game press conference – Cann, Eriel McKee and Corrin Robinson – said all the right words talking about Marion being a great team and how the Lady Bearcats must remain focused themselves. But the way they uttered the words reflected the old adage, “Respect all opponents, fear none.”
Cann has played summer basketball with all five of the Marion starters and Anderson assistant coach Nick Cann, the player's older brother, has worked with several of the Marion players on the Kentucky Premier team.
“They know each other well,” Kays said.
Kays said his team would return to their hotel in Bowling Green Friday night to go over the game plan for Marion. “The coaches have talked about (Marion) but we haven't put anything together or talked to the team yet,” he said.
Marion is favored, but Anderson also knows it's called March Madness for a reason.
Tipoff is set for Saturday at 11 a.m. Eastern Time.
**John Herndon's take on the game
After seeing Marion for the first time this year on Friday afternoon, it is apparent that Anderson will have to play as well as it can play, playing fearless and loose. The Lady Bearcats must be aware of where the athletic Lady Knights are on the floor and keep cross-court passes to a minimum. Marion punished Montgomery for careless passes.
Anderson must also stay out of foul trouble, especially the big three of Cann, Eriel McKee and Kali Whiteside.
If the Lady Bearcats play to their potential, they can give Marion a run for the money. Whether that would be enough will be found out tomorrow.
**Tickets can be purchased online at www.khsaa.org or at the Diddle Arena box office. Fans are advised to arrive early as both Anderson and Marion had large followings in Diddle Arena on Friday.