Following back-to-back victories over Sunflower League front-runner Olathe South and third-place Olathe East, Lawrence High boys basketball coach Chris Davis hopes there's enough left in his team's tank for the final week of the regular season.
LHS (15-3) will play at Free State High (8-10) tonight, and then end the regular season on Feb. 22 at home against Leavenworth. Tipoff for the LHS-FSHS nonleague contest is 7 p.m.
"We're coming off two really big games and now it is Free State and we'll be up for that," said Davis, whose squad has won five in a row and 14 of 15. "I'm a little bit worried about a letdown. We haven't had back-to-back games with the significance like the last two we played."
The Lions, ranked No. 3 in the Class 6A coaches' poll, have secured the No. 2 seed for next week's sub-state tournament. Olathe South (16-2) is No. 1 and Olathe East (13-5) is No. 3. The remaining five seeds are up for grabs, with Free State ranging from a fifth to eighth seed.
The Firebirds, who have qualified for state the past two seasons, likely will be a sixth or seventh seed, meaning they could meet LHS in the first or second round of sub-state, possibly at Free State.
"I think every team in the conference doesn't want to run into Free State (in the postseason) because they know how explosive they are," said Davis, whose Lions lost, 53-51, to Free State in last year's sub-state final. "They're going to be tough to reckon with."
FSHS coach Jack Schreiner has kept track of the Lions, who have won 15 games for the second consecutive season for the first time since 1990-91 and 1991-92.
"To knock off Olathe East and Olathe South in three days, Lawrence High may be playing as well as any team in the state right now," Schreiner said.
Free State hasn't been too shabby the past month. The Firebirds have won five of their past six and are 6-3 since opening with a 2-7 mark.
"Except for the last two minutes against Shawnee Mission Northwest (in a 43-42 loss on Feb. 14), I think we're playing as well as we have all season," Schreiner said.
On Dec. 21, the Lions beat the Firebirds, 53-44, at LHS. The Lions, applying a suffocating box-and-one defense, limited 6-foot-9 FSHS center Keith Wooden to eight points and six shots. LHS senior David Parkinson handled most of the defensive duties against Wooden, who's averaging a team-high 15.7 points and shoots 59.7 percent from the field.
"I knows David's been looking forward to this game, but I know Keith is too," Davis said.
Schreiner has grown accustomed to opponents using gimmick defenses against Wooden.
"The last time we played them was the first time we had seen a box-and-one or diamond-and-one," Schreiner said. "Since then we've seen it 30,000 times and hopefully it won't catch us by surprise. I think we've seen everything possible."
Senior D.J. Watkins averages 18.3 points a game and 49 three-point goals to lead the Lions. Watkins, who has 97 threes for his prep career, became Lawrence's all-time three-point shooter in Saturday's 65-61 victory over Olathe East. LHS has hit 117 three-pointers as a team to set a school record.
Schreiner will start all four of his seniors and Wooden, a junior, for the Firebirds' final home game. Senior Aubrey Gilbert will start in place of junior Neil Dougherty.
Schreiner, 99-97 in nine seasons as a high school coach, is going for win No. 100 tonight against the school where he started his prep coaching career in 1993.
"It is a little ironic," Schreiner said of facing LHS for the possible milestone victory.
Schreiner compiled a 55-35 record in four seasons at LHS, including a 21-4 mark in 1994-95 when the Lions captured the Class 6A state title.
"I guess I got one-fifth of my wins in one year," Schreiner quipped. "I was hoping I'd do it (reach 100) in five years."
Free State holds a 5-4 advantage in the intracity series. The Firebirds have never lost two games in the same season to the Lions. Also, the Firebirds are 3-1 against LHS at Free State, with that lone loss coming in the first meeting in 1998.