The Bell County Lady Cats will start their quest for a 13th Region championship on Tuesday with a first round game against Lynn Camp at The Arena in Corbin.
Bell County (24-4) enters the tournament as one of the favorites, along with defending champion Corbin (23-7) and Whitley County (24-7). The Lady Cats made it to the championship game last season where they were surprised by the Lady Redhounds.
Bell County has gone 19-1 against 13th Region opponents, that record includes two close wins at Corbin and two over Whitley County.
“I don’t know if we’re the team to beat, but I know a lot of people have tagged us as the team to beat,” Bell coach David Teague said. “We’re glad to be considered as the favorite. We just need to go out there and prove it.
“Corbin and Whitley County are also very good. Actually, there are several good teams in the region tournament. You also have to keep an eye on Clay County. They are playing really good basketball right now.”
The Lady Hounds will play North Laurel (15-17) in Tuesday’s other first round game. A rematch of the last year’s championship game is very likely in the semefinals.
On the other side of the bracket, Barbourville (16-12) plays Harlan (18-12) on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. and Clay County (20-10) plays Whitley County at 8 p.m.
Clay County, which won six of seven regional championships before last year, is a darkhorse this season. The Tigers have won 11 straight after starting the season 9-10.
But no team has been playing better than the Lady Cats. Bell County has gone 16-1 since the calendar flipped to 2014. That stretch includes a 64-33 win over Lynn Camp (22-7) on Feb. 8. It was the Lady Wildcats’ worst loss of the season.
“Bell County has what no one else has, which is Maci Morris,” Lynn Camp coach Richard Jones said. “Maci Morris is what really worries me. She can take a game over at any time. We’re going to have to find a way to slow her down.”
That’s been a tall task for just about every team the Lady Cats have gone up against. Morris, who committed to the University of Kentucky prior to the season, has averaged 22 points and ten rebounds per game. That’s exactly what she put in Bell’s win over Lynn Camp.
The two teams also met in the first round of last year’s 13th Region Tournament. Bell jumped out a big early lead and then turned back a late rally form the Lady Wildcats in a 57-44 win.
“Lynn Camp is a very good team,” Teague said. “When you get this far, everyone is good. They have some very good players that we’re going to have to prepare for. We’ll get to practice, and get ready for them. We’re not going to overlook them. That’s for sure.”
Senior center Jessica May led Lynn Camp with 17 points in the regular season meeting between the teams and she has the size to present some match-up problems for the Lady Cats.
“We’re going to try and take advantage of her play in the paint,” Jones said. “She’s a hard player to match up with. If we can get the ball to her, and get our offense going, I believe we can be successful.”
He added that another key for his team is to slow down the Lady Cats and execute on offense.
“We’ve got to be able to handle their press,” he said. “If we don’t we could be in some trouble. When we played them earlier in the season, we had trouble getting into our offense, so we’ve got to get in our offensive sets and execute.”
Bell County will be looking to push the pace. Teague added that they won’t be caught looking ahead.
“We’ll be well-prepared. Coach Jones does a great job with his team, and we’ve got to be ready to play,” he said. “Right now, we’re taking things one day at a time.”
The Lady Cats have had their sights set on making up for last year’s championship game loss all season. They’ve shown on more than one occasion that they have the ability to pull out close games against the best the region has to offer.
“I feel like we have a chance to make a run,” Teague said. “Our kids are focused, and we realize we’ve got to take things one day at a time. It’s also nice to have Maci on our team. She’s the best player in the region for a reason; she’s a nice player that makes everyone around her better. She’s our go-to player and she’s our leader.”