Before the start of Sunday’s practice Rayne basketball coach Chester Randall wanted to make certain his team understood one thing: the 72-hour post-quarterfinal victory celebration was over.
“I told them (then) they ran down the court and celebrated, got phone calls and texts and were on cloud nine,” Randall said of last Thursday’s 57-50 win over Fair Park in Shreveport. “From now until the game it’s about business and let’s take it serious. This is a business trip.”
No. 6 Rayne (30-2) gets down to the business at hand against No. 2 St. Michael the Archangel (27-8), Thursday at 2:30 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Top 28 Tournament at Southeastern Louisiana’s University Center.
The Wolves take a 25-game winning streak into their first state tournament in 26 years.
“They seemed to be focused on what’s at hand and what needs to be done,” Randall said. “They’ve asked the questions that need to be asked. This is the most composed and focused group I’ve seen so far.”
The circumstances are quite different for No. 2 North Central (27-2), which is the reigning Class 1A state champion. The Lady Canes are making their fifth straight trip in the Top 28 event and face No. 6 Merryville (31-0) at 8 p.m. Thursday
“Our first goal this year was to be parish champs, do well in our tournaments and win district,” North Central coach Vanessa Taylor said. “After district we started talking about repeating as state champions. We had to take it one stage at a time.”
ST. MICHAEL-RAYNE: Randall said his team’s matchup with St. Michael is favorable from a size standpoint since the Lady Warriors don’t feature a starter over 5-foot-9.
However, St. Michael, which is led by Southeastern Louisiana signee Tyler Morrison (11 points) and Nicholls State signee Sabree Wilson (11 points), features a very fundamental team that’s not defined by one style of play.
St. Michael is 14-0 when scoring 60-plus points, but is also comfortable in lower-scoring games as evidenced by its 35-32 win at St. Thomas More this year.
Rayne counters with a more up-tempo approach led by seniors Charlesha Dugas (22 points), center Whitley Larry (10.8 pts., 8.9 rebs, 6.4 blocks) and forward Amari Collins (9.0 pts., 7.0 rebs.)
MERRYVILLE-NORTH CENTRAL: As the sixth-seed and undefeated team Merryville may be the more underrated of the Class 1A semifinalists.
If not for its record Merryville’s certainly gotten the attention of North Central with high-scoring sophomore guard Andrea Cournoyer with her 31.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 7.7 steals. The Lady Panthers don’t have another player averaging in double figures.
“I have good defenders that will not allow you to shoot the ball,” Taylor said. “We’re aggressive and that’s just something we do. We haven’t had anyone score 30-something points on us in a game this year.”
North Central has limited opponents to 40 or fewer points 18 times, while by comparison Merryville has reached the 70-point plateau 15 times.
Taylor said junior point guard Quaniqua Joseph, who averages 15.9 points, will take the lead role defensively against Cournoyer with Lady Canes expected to rotate other defenders throughout the game.
Junior guard Jada Duncantell leads North Central’s scoring at 20.9 followed by Joseph and sophomore forward Latrachiri Tyler’s 11.3 points and 7.6 rebounds.
“Everyone that steps on the court knows they’re getting in to play defense,” Taylor said. “Our whole game is wrapped around playing good defense. If you do that, then the offense will come.”