When a contest matches up two top-10 ranked units in a divisional Associated Press Poll, that contest is one that is a must-see for any basketball aficionado.
However, when a contest matches up those two top-10 ranked units, along with several big-time upperclassmen talents — in a go-or-go-home contest, no less — the result is usually one of the better matchups one can hope to find.
On Wednesday evening, the Minford Falcons’ girls basketball program, at 24-1 overall, will get to be one part of what is expected to be an absolute war when Minford takes on the Columbus Africentric Nubians’ girls basketball program at 6:15 p.m. on the campus of Marietta College in Marietta as part of the Division III, Region III Semifinals.
For Scott Caudill, his girls are certainly excited to join the 1992, 1996, and 2007 programs as only the fourth girls basketball team in school history to officially compete in a regional.
But make no mistake about it — Minford is here to win.
“We’re really excited for the opportunity,” Caudill said. “When you get this deep into the tournament, everybody’s a good team, and you’ve got to show up, play the best that you can, and, bottomline, put the ball in the basket. While Columbus Africentric is a great basketball team, we feel confident about how we’ve performed this season, and I feel like if we come out and play like we did against Chillicothe Southeastern, I feel like we’ve got a really good shot at coming out with a victory.”
To do so, the Lady Falcons will certainly have to limit the high-powered offense that the Lady Nubians sport, which is sparked in large part by the play of Jordan Horston — who is one of the best players in the country regardless of class.
Horston, a 6-1 junior guard who scored a team-high 16 points in Africentric’s 63-23 victory over Columbus Bishop Ready in the Division III, Columbus II District Championship game, is the No. 6-ranked girls basketball hooper in the Class of 2019, according to ESPN.com, and has already been a part of a Lady Nubians’ program that won a Division III State Championship in 2016 and went back to the OHSAA Division III Final Four in 2017. Sophomore guard Alexia Smith is another talented piece in the Africentric lineup.
Still, the highly-touted press clippings that Horston, and the Lady Nubians, have on their backs haven’t phased the Lady Falcons one bit due to the amount of preparation that Minford has put in. Caudill, in fact, says that the Lady Falcons have benefited from only concerning themselves with what they can control.
“We’ve watched film on Africentric every single day, and we feel pretty relaxed as far as our preparation is concerned,” Caudill said. “We have focused a lot on what we do. Watching the film had more to do with, ‘This is who Africentric is, and they are really no different from some of the additional tests that we’ve seen this year.’ We didn’t want the hype to get to them, which would’ve taken away from what we’re trying to do. Instead, we’re just trying to stay focused, stay relaxed, and not change anything from what we typically do.”
Part of that includes, as they did in a dominating 59-39 effort against Chillicothe Southeastern in the Division III, Waverly I District Championship bout, riding their effectiveness in the halfcourt to the desired result.
The Lady Falcons, who fell behind by a 5-0 tally to start the affair, went on a 16-0 spurt in just under 3:15 of playing time en route to dominating the affair over the contest’s final 26 minutes behind Ashley Blankenship’s 19 points and the relentless two-way, Dennis Rodman-like energy of Caitlyn Puckett. Erin Daniels, as usual, was also huge with 22 points, and, more importantly, executed the desired gameplan to near-perfection.
“I like our post presence better,” Caudill said. “After watching the film, I believe that we have the advantage with (Ashley) Blankenship and (Caitlyn) Puckett. We’re just going to try to change up defensive looks and keep the opposing team on their toes as far as what we’re doing defensively is concerned so we can keep Africentric off-kilter offensively.”
To establish that, however, Minford will have to limit Columbus Africentric’s efforts in transition, where Horston really thrives at. The senior, who is considering offers from at least 30 Division I programs, is at her best at the breakneck pace, as the junior’s long stride, strong ballhandling ability, and shooting touch from out to the three-point arc makes the 6-1 guard a threat no matter where she is on the floor. Boxing out, which has been a weakness for Minford at times this season, will also have to be what it was against the Lady Panthers in order for the same result to occur against the Lady Nubians.
“There’s so many big keys,” Caudill said. “We’ve got to slow their transition game down, we’ve got to handle their press, we’ve got to make sure that we box out on both ends of the floor, and we’ve got to minimize their second-chance points. If we rebound and clean up those missed shots like I know that we can, I really like our chances.”
So it’s no surprise that Caudill will be focusing on slowing the contest down and utilzing the size advantage that the 6-3 Blankenship and the 5-11 Puckett will have over their competition.
“That would benefit us most,” Caudill said. “I’ve watched their press, and as long as we break their pressure, I like where we’ll be. As long as we set up the offense, don’t force up transition shots, and get into an efficient halfcourt set, I like our chances a lot better. That’s easier said than done. The pressure’s going to be intense, but our girls haven’t seen anything that we can’t handle. We’ve just got to make sure that we don’t get into the business of sprinting down the floor and taking the first look that we get. We’ve got to make sure that we get the basketball into the hands of our scorers, run our sets the right way, and play slow-down, fundamental basketball.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT