Lions, Firebirds set for sub-state openers

Last summer, Lawrence High senior guard Anthony Bonner announced his expectations for the boys basketball team this season.

“Nothing less than a state championship, honestly,” he said in June.

Bonner has done his best to deliver on his words. He’s averaged 19.8 points per game this year, and he’s hoping to get his team one game closer to his goal when the Lions open sub-state play against Shawnee Mission Northwest at 7 p.m. today at LHS.

The Lions beat the Cougars (3-17) in their only regular-season meeting, 64-48, on Feb. 10, though they were without senior guard John Barbee.

“They’re a team that we can’t underestimate,” Bonner said. “We can’t look past them. They run good sets. They’re strong, and they rebound. We just have to come out and play every game like it’s our last, because it could be our last, and just stay motivated.”

Bonner, who has scored at least 20 points in 13 games this year including his last five, is determined to make the most of his final prep season before he heads to Colorado State next year. He put up extra shots in the gym with his dad last week, and his teammates have noticed one of their top scorers putting in extra work.

“He already committed, and some people might get that attitude, ‘I’m already (Div. I). I don’t need to go out and do anything else,'” junior forward Fred Brou said. “He puts in the extra hour, first one in the gym. He works out on the weekends.”

It’s the extra work that has prepared Bonner for the variety of defenses he has faced this year. The Cougars face-guarded Bonner and junior point guard Justin Roberts in their last meeting, and senior guard Ben Rajewski took advantage with a game-high 18 points.

The Lions (19-1, ranked No. 2) are ready to see any defensive scheme from the Cougars tonight, and they hope they can avoid the traps of getting over-excited for playoff games and getting out of rhythm.

“We’ve got to be who we are and play basketball and have some fun with it and relax,” LHS coach Mike Lewis said. “On the marker board, I’ll put, ‘You be you.’ We have to be who we are. We just have to relax and play ball.”

Free State High’s boys basketball team will face Shawnee Mission North at 7 tonight at SM North. The Firebirds won their lone regular-season matchup at home, 69-57.

With their victory, the Firebirds (11-9) have plenty of confidence against the eighth-ranked Indians (13-7), but know that their opponents probably haven’t forgotten that game either.

“We should have a lot of confidence, but I think (SM North is) also going to be pretty fired up to play,” FSHS coach Chuck Law said. “It’s in their gym this time. I’m sure they’ve got a little bit of payback on their minds. But again, that emotion lasts two or three minutes into the game, then after that, it’s who is going to execute and who is going to stick to the game plan better. That’s the team that’s going to win.”

The Firebirds, who have won six of their past nine games, have tried to keep the same intensity in practice that they had during the regular season, though they know what’s at stake in sub-state.

“They all understand,” Law said. “We don’t need to beat that dead horse that it’s lose and go home at this time in the year. … We feel good about the sub-state draw that we got. No guarantees by any stretch of the imagination. We’re the sixth seed and an 11-9 team. But things worked out pretty well for us, all things considered.”