The views from the bench and the bleachers are often very different.
The city’s four high school basketball coaches know that as well as anyone.
That’s why, when given the chance to step away from the enormity of their own games, to size up the matchup that will take place before or after them for change, players and coaches at Lawrence High and Free State jumped at the opportunity.
Throw out the records, toss aside what has happened in the past. At this point, all that matters is what happens tonight during the second round of the city showdown.
“I love these games,” said LHS boys coach Chris Davis, whose team will play host to rival Free State at 7 tonight. “This rivalry is the best in the state of Kansas. These games get you ready for the state tournament.”
Earlier this week, Davis — along with LHS girls coach Kristin Mallory and Free State coaches Chuck Law and Bryan Duncan — took time to talk about the matchup other than their own. Instead of sizing up the keys for their teams, the foursome focused on the game they’ll be watching as fans.
What they discovered is that each has a pretty good handle on the other side of the showdown.
“The thing about the boys games is that it doesn’t matter who’s supposed to win or who’s picked to win, it’s always close,” Mallory said. “Just look at the first time around. What a great game.”
That game, which LHS won, 74-64 in overtime, took place on Dec. 20, 2008, and featured a perfectly executed gameplan by the Firebirds ruined by yet another dose of Dorian Green heroics.
As Green has proven throughout the season, stopping him is not a likely option. That’s just fine with Duncan, who said it’s the rest of the Lions — guys like Lance Kilburn, Marcus Ray, Bobby Davis and Robbie Wright — who will be key for the Firebirds’ defensive gameplan.
“Dorian is going to score,” Duncan said. “I think the key for Free State is not allowing Lawrence High’s second, third and fourth options to beat them.”
This time around, the Lions — winners of five straight — enter the game with an 11-8 record. In addition, it’s Senior Night for seven LHS players, and it’s the regular-season finale for LHS and Free State (1-18).
According to the girls who slide into the stands after playing their game, the emotions of tonight’s festivities will be a huge factor.
“I think it’ll make Dorian more excited because it’s Senior Night,” LHS senior Taylor Bird said. “The crowd loves Dorian, and I don’t think there’s any way he or the other seniors are going to let this team lose.”
LHS junior Haley Parker agreed and said the off-the-court intangibles have her thinking in terms of an LHS runaway.
“I expect a blowout,” she said.
Duncan expects just the opposite.
“I’m picking Free State by four,” he said. “And the reason I’m picking Free State is not to disrespect Lawrence High. I’ve just seen our boys competing at a very high level lately, in practice and in games. I think that will finally pay off.”
Although Mallory said she thought the LHS boys would hold serve, she sees where Duncan’s coming from.
“You have to assume the Free State boys are going to come ready to play,” she said. “It could be a season-changer for them. But I’ll take Dorian Green on my team any time.”
As for tonight’s girls game, which tips off at 5:30, both Davis and Law see it as a meeting between two very different teams.
“It’s a classic matchup between contrasting styles,” Law said. “The LHS guards against the Free State bigs. More often than not, guards win out, whether that’s at the high school level or in college.”
Davis said the matchup problems that each team presents would go a long way in determining the outcome. But the biggest key, from where he sits, is mental.
“An emotional game like this is going to come down to the experienced players and how they play,” Davis said. “(Taylor) Bird and (Haley) Parker and (Cassie) Potter, particularly, how do they lead and control the game? I really think their state-tournament experience from last year gives them an advantage.”
That advantage might be nullified by the pair of post players in Free State’s corner.
“It’s going to be interesting because we don’t have much size,” Lions senior Paul Eltschinger said of the LHS girls. “We don’t have an Ashli Hill or a Chantay Caron. In the girls game, if you have an Ashli Hill, that is an advantage.”
Last time around — in a game LHS won, 39-37 — the Firebirds pounded it inside and forced the Lions to miss from the outside. Eventually, LHS found its range and pulled away in the second half.
This time around, the stakes are higher. The two teams are separated by just one game in the standings — Free State at 10-9 and Lawrence High at 9-10 — and they likely will face each other next week in the opening round of sub-state, with tonight’s winner earning the right to host the game.
“This is a big game,” Davis said. “There’s a lot on the line. More than anything, one of the biggest factors will be getting everyone to calm down. It comes down to how each team handles pressure.”
Boys or girls, Round 1 or Round 2, the song remains the same for the city showdown.
LHS senior Bobby Davis can’t wait.
“As soon as the bell rings, class is out, and Free State kids are already over here,” Bobby Davis said. “It doesn’t get any better than that. It’s Free State. It’s Senior Night. The place is going to be rocking.”