Midway through the season, the Free State and Lawrence High boys basketball teams need the same tonic: time on the court.
That's just what both will get at the Topeka Invitational, which starts today at Topeka Seaman High. LHS has the early game, 3:15 p.m. against Topeka High.
FSHS faces Seaman (3-5) at 6:45 p.m. The Firebirds and Lions both will play three games in three days at the tournament.
"It's good for us in the sense that it allows us to play some basketball," LHS coach Chris Davis said. "We just need to get back on the court."
The Lions (4-4) are 1-2 since the holiday break and are coming off a 57-53 loss Friday to Shawnee Mission Northwest. LHS hasn't been sharp since its last tournament appearance, in December at the Blue Valley Shootout, where the Lions went 2-1 and finished third.
The Topeka Invitational could be a tougher challenge.
"It's an awfully good tournament," Davis said. "It's going to be a real test to come out tough and win some games."
The Firebirds (6-3) are taking the same approach. FSHS has lost three of its last four, including a 67-53 debacle Friday against Olathe East. The Firebirds were outscored 20-7 in the fourth quarter and looked sluggish throughout the game.
Playing three nonleague games could be just what the Firebirds need.
"We're pretty much looking at it as starting over," FSHS junior Cole Douglas said. "We get to play three games in a row. We can just go out and play a lot of basketball, which is what we need."
To be fair, the Firebirds haven't tanked this season. They won the KVOE Tip-Off Classic in December in Emporia -- their first-ever title there -- and opened Sunflower League play with a win against Lawrence High. But that 5-0 start brought high expectations, which FSHS hasn't fulfilled.
That's why the Topeka Invitational is so appealing.
"We've done OK in this, a lot better than we have in Emporia," FSHS coach Jack Schreiner said. "We've taken third and played for third. We haven't put ourselves in that position of losing the first game."
To contend for the title, FSHS will need offensive production from 6-foot-9 senior Keith Wooden and 6-1 junior guard Dain Dillingham. Neither was sharp against Olathe East, but Schreiner doesn't expect that to last.
"Keith had been playing well, and Dain, offensively, hasn't been what we'd hoped the last few games, but defensively, he's played unbelievably," Schreiner said.
Wooden leads FSHS in scoring at 17.7 points per game, while Dillingham is second at 11.4. The Firebirds average nearly 60 points a game while holding opponents under 50.
The Lions would love that kind of production.
LHS averages 49.3 points per game, and it doesn't have anyone averaging in double figures. Senior guard Bryan Cargill is the top scorer at 9.3 per game, while junior guard Taylor Parker is at 8.0.
But the Lions have received increased scoring from senior forward Brandon McAnderson since the holiday break -- a fact that comes as no surprise to Davis. McAnderson, who orally committed to play football at Kansas University, focused on football during the fall.
"Well, he didn't pick up a basketball for four or five months," Davis said of the All-Sunflower League football player. "It just took him awhile to get his shot back and get into a rhythm."
McAnderson has scored 33 points in the last three games, boosting his average to 7.5 a game.
Even with McAnderson's scoring, Davis said defense remains the Lions' strong suit, especially against first-round opponent Topeka. LHS won its season opener 55-39 against the Trojans by holding them to 23 percent shooting from the field, including just 2-of-25 shooting from behind the three-point line.
The Trojans (5-2) won't be the same team this time around. With four Topeka players now averaging double figures, the Lions will have their hands full.
"I've been telling the kids that isn't going to happen again," Davis said. "Last time they were dealing with some injuries. That (Nate) Wallace was coming off an injury, and he's probably their best player."
If LHS gets by Topeka, it probably will have to deal with revenge-minded Highland Park. The Lions, the defending tournament champions, beat the Scots 60-51 to open last year's tournament.
But to win any games, LHS has to play smarter than it has recently -- that remains Davis' biggest concern.
"The last few games, we haven't been mentally prepared to play," he said. "Executing remains the No. 1 thing for us. We have to be prepared to be tough and execute everything we have been practicing."