The Talladega High School boys basketball team will take on archrival Sylacauga in the Class 5A semifinals tonight at 7:30 in Legacy Arena in the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.
The Tigers and Aggies, both making their second straight trip to the Final Four, have had a week to prepare for their fourth matchup of the season. Talladega head coach Chucky Miller believes both teams will play well.
“We know each other’s strengths and weakness,” Miller said. “Now it is time to play, and you need to bring your best. I believe both teams will represent Talladega County (well tonight).”
Talladega won the three previous meetings. On Dec. 20, Talladega went to Sylacauga and left with a 79-69 victory. On Jan. 12, the Tigers held on to defeat Sylacauga 69-66, and in the championship game of the Talladega County Tournament, Talladega won 77-73.
“At this time of the year, it is easy and hard,” Miller said. “It is easy because we know the opponent, but it is hard to play Sylacauga again. You very seldom play somebody four times in a year.
“I believe we have played Sylacauga four times in a year between county and area games … but never on this stage. If we were in the same area, we wouldn’t be playing. The success the both of us had over the last couple of years shows what we have to play to get there. it is just tough competition.”
Talladega defeated Etowah 75-70 last Wednesday in the Northeast Regional championship game. Miller said his team has used the practice time since to work on execution
“This time of the year, you just fine tune things and you are not going to teach too much,” Miller said. “You have to go with what has been good for you. For us and Sylacauga, all of our offenses and defenses have been successful this year. We are not going to change too much, we just have to go execute. The team has to rebound and (we) have to hustle all of the time. I believe both of us will be doing that.”
Sylacauga (27-6) defeated Calera 70-65 to win the Central Regional tournament for the second season in a row. Miller said he has been impressed with the way Malik Crawford and Darian Garrett have played as of late for the Aggies.
“Crawford has been so aggressive the last couple of games that I have seen him play,” the coach said. “He has upped his game. I think he is playing his most consistent ball ever. Also Garret, his shot is so pure. That game-winner he hit (at the buzzer) against Booker T. Washington (in a regional semifinal) was just fluent. We know he can shoot.
“Looking back … Garrett got 18 points against us as a ninth-grader in the county tournament. That’s unheard of. You knew he was going to be a big-time scorer for four years. Any ninth-grader that can come up and score 18 points is a player.”
For Talladega to be successful tonight, Miller said his team must continue to get everybody involved. In their two regional games at Jacksonville State, the Tigers had a different player step up each game. Against Arab in a semifinal, it was Kobe Simmons, who dropped 17 points. In the championship game, it was JQ Wilson, who scored timely buckets on his way to finishing with 16.
“Lately, we have not had to rely on one single person; we try to get everybody involved and everybody playing well,” Miller said. “Getting a rebound and a basket or a steal can get your confidence up in a game. That pays big dividends for players. Hustle plays that you make may get you going, but it might (also) get three or four players going.”