Plenty of experience

Freshman Faith Johnson will be playing in her third Sweet 16 game tonight. 

The No. 5-ranked Talladega County Central girls basketball team will take on No. 3 Skyline in the Class 1A Northeast Regional Tournament at Pete Mathews Coliseum on the campus of Jacksonville State University.

Tipoff is set for tonight at 6.

“It is a joy to be back in the Sweet 16,” TC Central head coach Robert Duncan said. “We know we have a great challenge in front of us with Skyline.”

TC Central (25-8) defeated Coosa Christian 76-53 to advance to regionals and clinch its fifth straight appearance in the Sweet 16.

TC Central has yet to advance past the opening game of the regional tournament. Last season, the Lady Fighting Tigers fell to Loachapoka 51-45 in the Sweet 16.

Duncan believes this team has what it takes to get over the hump.

“We are grateful for a group of girls that worked hard and didn’t settle,” Duncan said. “They didn’t hang their heads because we lost in the first round the last few years, but they came back battling to get to that same spot again to try to get over that hurdle.”

Experience will be on the side of the Lady Fighting Tigers when they step on the court today. TC Central still has a fairly young squad, but several players on the team have played in the Sweet 16 multiple times.

“We have girls that have been there,” Duncan said. “Our ninth-graders, this will be their third year in the regional. Our 10th-graders, it will be their fourth year, and our 11th-graders, this is their fifth year playing. Most of our seniors have been playing for five or six years. We like our chances.”

Duncan said his team has improved immensely since being in this same position a year ago.

“We are a year older, but maybe two years more mature from a basketball standpoint,” Duncan said. “Our assistant coaches have worked really hard to improve our basketball IQ … and we are doing the little things.

“We play so many guards throughout a basketball game, but they can also play in the post as well. Having a lot of versatile players is going to be an advantage for us.”

TC Central spent Wednesday in Callahan gymnasium on the campus of Talladega College getting adjusted to the length of the court the Lady Fighting Tigers will play on at JSU.  

It was not the first time TC Central had been on the court at Talladega College. The Lady Fighting Tigers opened the season with a game against Paul Bryant in November at Tornado Alley.

Skyline (26-5) defeated Oakwood 76-56 to advance to the Sweet 16.

Duncan said stopping dribble penetration will be vital if his squad is going to advance.

“Defense first, they are a good basketball team,” Duncan said. “They like to get up and down the basketball floor, but we like to get up and down as well. I believe, in the end, our athleticism will propel us.

“If we can stop their guards from deep penetration and being able to kick it out to the shooters, we will be fine.

“No.1 (Caitlin Ledwell) loves to get deep into the paint; she can get to the rim and finish. We are going to try to limit her penetration and make her shoot contested shots. As well as No.21 (Bailee Usrey), we want to make her shoot contested shots… We are going to ride the defensive wave and see if we can get a few turnovers and get a few transition baskets to get us going.”