For Lawrence High girls basketball coach Nick Wood and Free State counterpart Bryan Duncan, tonight’s game between the Firebirds and Lions is just another game on the schedule.
“We don’t do anything different against them, quite frankly, than we do against any other opponent, as far as preparation or excitement from coaches,” Duncan said.
They both realize, however, that it means a lot more to their players. And they’re happy for that. It means they won’t have to motivate their teams to play hard.
The game, which tips off at 7 p.m at LHS, is a matchup of two teams still looking for their identities.
Lawrence High (3-4) plays a lot of seniors, but most are getting their first varsity experience this season. The Lions have won three of their last four games after losing their first three.
Duncan has scouted the Lions a couple of times and knows what to expect, especially out of LHS senior Tamiya Green, the Lions’ most athletic inside presence.
The Firebirds (4-3) use solid guard play to score points. And even though they’re a much younger team, Wood doesn’t see that as an advantage for LHS.
“Being young doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not talented by any means,” Wood said.
Wood is also worried about Free State’s ability to spread the floor with quality outside shooters.
“We’re going to have to honor everybody they put on the floor,” Wood said. “They present a tough matchup in that way.”
Duncan, who hasn’t had a team this young in a couple of years, doesn’t know how his team will handle the rivalry. In the past, his experienced players knew how to play in rivalry games, and that knowledge spread through the rest of the team.
Players on both teams might start the game too excited, but inevitably, only one team will go home happy.
“Win or lose, we’ve got to wake up Wednesday either way and play the rest of the season out,” Wood said. “But, yeah, they’re jacked up.”