Panthers appear primed to compete at region
By Jim Turner

Posted on March 5, 2017 9:35 PM

When the Fourth Region boys semifinals are played at Diddle Arena Monday night, the focus will be on the opening game between the top-ranked teams, Bowling Green and Franklin-Simpson, as it should be. Coach D.G. Sherill’s Purples are 16-0 in the region, and Coach Dee Spencer’s Wildcats are 22-2 against regional competition with both losses to BGH.

The second semifinal, matching Russellville and Clinton County, will be something of an afterthought to most observers—two good teams but not on the level of the Purples and the Wildcats, they figure.

You can understand why public sentiment would lean that way. Russellville has played Franklin three times this season, and in each one the Wildcats have found ways to build a sizable lead over the Panthers, even with Russellville having a lopsided coaching advantage with the legendary Phil Todd at the helm. And Franklin has lost to BGH twice, once close and once not.

Russellville beat Clinton County by two points in overtime on the way to the Class A state semifinals.

Yet anyone who saw the Panthers disassemble a good Monroe County in opening round regional action Wednesday knows that Russellville is capable of playing basketball at a high level. Some who have seen many or most of the RHS games this season said this was the best the Panthers had played all season, peaking when the season is on the line.

Although long-range shooting has been a challenge for the Panthers ever since that semifinals loss in the All A Classic, Todd’s team was deadly from 2-point range. The Panthers hit 25 of 36 of those inside-the-arc shots for a sizzling 70 percent. They also out-rebounded the Falcons 40-28, totaled 16 assists to Monroe’s 3, blocked 8 shots, made 5 steals and committed just 7 turnovers.

Those are winning numbers.

Individually, Pedro Bradshaw hit 9 of 12 field goal attempts and 7 of 8 free throws. He had 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks and no turnovers while doing much of the ball-handling. Jaylyn McMurry hit 6 of 8 shots, 7 of 7 free throws, and had 4 assists and 3 each of blocks and steals. Paul Jones came off the bench to hit all five of his shots. He had 6 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and no turnovers. Micah Naylor hit a pair of 3-pointers with Shawn Steele and Bradshaw adding one each.

Russellville also seems to have gotten a break with Clinton County’s win over Greenwood. Although Clinton is a good team, Greenwood figured to be a much deeper team against the Panthers than it was Wednesday. The Gators were expected to have two of their best players back in uniform this week after a lengthy suspension. Russellville matches up with Clinton’s size much better than it would have with Greenwood’s.

One more factor in Russellville’s favor is the strong schedule the Panthers have played. Exactly half of the Panthers’ 32 games have been in tournament play, including two events in Lexington and one in Franklin. A 17th game came in a showcase event. Bowling Green has played in 16 such games, Clinton County 12 and Franklin 11.

The Fourth Region’s three finalists for Mr. Kentucky basketball—Bradshaw, Bowling Green’s Terry Taylor and Franklin’s Tavin Lovan—will be in action Monday.

Also the four winningest teams in the region are still alive. In order they are BGH at 30-2, F-S 26-6, Clinton 23-9 and RHS 21-11.

The BG-Franklin game starts at 6 p.m. Monday at Diddle with the Panthers and Bulldogs to follow. The finals will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The girls state tournament starts Wednesday with the boys Sweet Sixteen set a week later at Rupp Arena.

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