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Familiar faces abound at Girls’ Sweet 16

This year’s Girls’ Sweet 16 features a field full of familiar faces.

Ten teams are back from last year and a handful of those have made getting to the state’s biggest stage a habit.

So things should be cordial, as well as competitive, when the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s Girls’ Sweet 16 Tournament tips off today (Wednesday) at Western Kentucky University’s E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green.

In addition to the 10 teams (Franklin-Simpson, Elizabethtown, Simon Kenton, Johnson Central and Breathitt, Henderson, Marshall, Montgomery, Ohio and Rowan counties) returning from last season, the field features four schools that have won at least one state title and six teams ranked in the final regular season AP Top 10.

“Everyone is playing good basketball, it’s just a matter of trying to stay hot and putting together four good games,” said Elizabethtown coach Tim Mudd, whose team advanced to last year’s semifinals.

The tournament tips off with a pair of Top 10 showdowns.

First No. 1, and 2007 runner-up, Iroquois (29-1) meets No. 6 Franklin-Simpson (30-3), last year’s runner-up.

The Lady Raiders have won 14 straight games, including a win over defending state champ Butler in the Sixth Region final. Iroquois, whose lone loss this season was by three points to DuPont Manual in January, is led by 5- foot-9 wing Adia Mathies (17.7 points per game, 11.9 rebounds per game), a University of Kentucky signee.

Iroquois beat Franklin- Simpson twice in December, but since the latter loss the Lady Wildcats have won 20 of their last 21.

Franklin-Simpson returns four starters, led by 6-0 sophomore center Chastity Gooch (15.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg), from the team that fell to Butler 58-57 in last year’s final.

“The favorites have to be Iroquois in the top half and E’town in the bottom half,” Franklin- Simpson coach Lex Lindsey said.

Third-ranked Montgomery County (27-3) meets No. 9 Christian Academy of Louisville (25-4) in Wednesday’s second game. The Indians, who are making their fifth straight Sweet 16 appearance, have a veteran team (five seniors and five juniors) led by senior guard Mackenzie Lee (12 ppg, 5.9 rpg).

The Lady Centurions boast 6-2 junior forward Antonita Slaughter (14.4 ppg), who has committed to the University of Louisville. She scored 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the Seventh Region final. The defensive-minded Centurions, who beat Montgomery County 40-35 on Dec. 22, have won 13 of their last 14.

In the first Wednesday evening game Simon Kenton (27-4) battles Breathitt County (23-7).

The Lady Pioneers have the state’s longest current winning streak (17 games). They are led by senior guard Chelsea Tolliver (20.5 ppg).

The Bobcats, who have won 12 in a row, are led by 5-10 freshman guard Kendall Noble (17.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 4.9 spg, 4.7 apg).

Then, Casey County (27-3) takes on Johnson Central (26-5).

The Lady Rebels started the season 3-2, but are 24-1 since. They have four starters averaging 9.7 points, or more, and ranked third in the state in free throw shooting and fourth in scoring defense during the regular season.

The Lady Eagles, meanwhile, have won 19 of their last 20 games.

Thursday’s first game pits second ranked E’town (30-2), the 1998 state champion, against No. 4 Lexington Christian (29-4), the 2007 state winner.

The Panthers, who have won 16 in a row, led the state in scoring margin in the regular season and also ranked second in free throw shooting and third in scoring defense and three-point shooting. They are led by 6-0 senior center Alex Jones (17.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg), who has signed with Eastern Kentucky.

Meanwhile the Lady Eagles have won 15 in a row and 24 of their last 25 since losing to E’town 77-64 on Dec. 22. Highscoring Lexington Christian is led by the trio of 5-11 senior guard Courtney Clifton (21.8 ppg), 5-10 senior forward Anna Martin (20 ppg) and 6-2 junior forward Sarah Beth Barnette (14..3 ppg, 9.4 rpg).

In Thursday’s second game Rowan County (26-3) battles Boone County (24-6).

The Lady Vikings, who have a balanced scoring attack, have won eight in a row and beat the Lady Rebels 65-45 in December. Boone County has bounced back since then, winning 14 of their last 15.

In Thursday evening’s first game Ohio County (25-5) meets Clay County (25-9).

The Lady Eagles, who have won eight of their last nine, are led by do-it-all 5-6 senior guard Mariah Robinson. She leads the team in scoring (20.5 ppg), rebounding (7.7 rpg), assists (6.2 apg) and steals (5.5 spg).

The Lady Tigers, who were 6-6 earlier this season, have won 10 straight. Clay County, which won the 1989 state title, has no seniors and is led by 6-1 sophomore center Whitney Belle Jackson (15.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg).

The Sweet 16’s final first-round game pits Marshall County (25-7) against Henderson County (22-5). Long-time coach Howard Beth’s Lady Marshals, who won the 1982 and ’84 state titles, are led by 6-1 senior forward Jessica Holder (21.1 ppg, 10.3 rpg). They have won nine of their last 10, and beat Henderson County 58-44 in December.

The Colonels, who have won seven of their last eight, have four starters averaging in double figures led by 6-1 senior center Alyse Poindexter (17.8 ppg, 11.9 rpg).

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