Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
JACKSON — After Notre Dame and Peebles won district championships last week, each was quick to compliment the other while knowing what lied head.
The Indians (21-3) and Titans (23-2) will meet at 7 p.m., Thursday in a Division IV regional semifinal … a rematch of last year’s regional semi, a game Peebles won by a 46-42 final.
Here’s everything you need to know about the rematch before tip-off:
Projected starting lineups … Peebles: Guards Jacey Justice and Harlee Wilkinson, Forwards Tatum Arey and Lilly Gray, Center Hope Brown; Notre Dame: Guards Ava Hassel and Taylor Schmidt, Forwards Olivia Smith and Isabel Cassidy, Center Katie Dettwiller.
Fast facts … In last year’s contest, Peebles’ Tatum Arey led the team with 15 points while Notre Dame’s Ava Hassel tallied eight points, six rebounds and three assists. Notre Dame’s district title last week was the program’s third straight and the third in program history while Peebles claimed its sixth district crown and second consecutive. The Titans upped their district record to 9-8 while the Indians are now 18-14. The Indians have one Final Four appearance, in 1998, where they finished as the state runner-up. The Titans have never won a regional title.
Potential X-Factors … Notre Dame has hung its hat on defense all season long. If the Titans are to win on Thursday, that must stay the same. The team’s best defensive player is senior Olivia Smith, especially as an on-ball defender. She’ll be a key factor in limiting Justice’s touches and denying quality looks at the basket. In the Indians’ district title win over Trimble, Tatum Arey tallied 11 points and five rebounds. And when Justice went down with an injury midway through the second quarter, she emerged as Peebles’ go-to scorer. Justice always gets hers, whether it’s at the free throw line or from the field. But if Arey starts scoring, ND’s defense will be forced to pay attention, meaning Justice gets better looks and the Indians reap the benefits.
To win, Peebles must … Display balance on the scoring sheet, deny penetration defensively and deny Ava Hassel the basketball. If multiple Indians score five or more points, Peebles may walk away victorious once again. Justice and Arey lead the way in terms of scoring but if Lilly Gray and Harlee Wilkinson can knock down open looks, the outlook becomes much better. Notre Dame loves to get into the lane and find open teammates, which is especially true for senior guard Taylor Schmidt. If the Indians and can stop that from happening, which is a tall task, it will force the Titans to look for different scoring opportunities they’re not so comfortable with. And, of course, if Hassel gets high-quality looks at the rim, that spells trouble for Peebles. Hassel is one of the best shooters in the region and can light up the nets like nobody’s business … especially if she’s open. Peebles’ defense will need to have an eye on her at all times.
To win, Notre Dame must … Play its usual style of lockdown defense, win the rebounding battle and take advantage of second chance opportunities. On the defensive end, it’s pretty simple for Notre Dame: just be itself. The Titans haven’t allowed more than 35 points in any tournament game this postseason — 24 to Clay, 27 to Manchester and 35 to Belpre. If that trend continues, chances are, Notre Dame will play in an Elite Eight. The rebounding battle speaks for itself. With Claire Dettwiller and Lauren Campbell working inside, Notre Dame usually has an advantage. But Gray, Arey and Hope Brown aren’t names to overlook. They’re good at boxing out and they attack the glass. If the Titans can grab boards, especially on the offensive end, they must convert second chance opportunities into points. That was a key in the win over Belpre and could be a key in a potential win over Peebles.
If you go …
Tip-off time: 7 p.m.
Venue: Jackson High School
Ticket price: $7 per person