After a one-year absence, it's a sweet thing for the Carey School boys' varsity basketball team to be returning to the 16-team State 1A tournament starting today in Caldwell.
Coach Dick Simpson's well-regarded Panthers (22-1) are also heading to today's 1:15 p.m. opening-round game against Genesee (12-4) at Vallivue High School gym as one of the pre-tournament favorites.
The Panthers are riding a 14-game winning streak including last Thursday's 66-54 triumph over Castleford in the Fourth District 1A championship game at Murtaugh.
"We hope we can keep the kids focused and shooting the ball well," said fifth-year coach Simpson, whose deep team is shooting 41% from the field and 30% from 3-point land.
It's old hat for Simpson to be taking a team on a roll to state.
In 2004, Carey went to Caldwell 20-1 with 18 straight wins. The Panthers beat Idaho City in the opener then lost to Council 55-49 en route to a 2-2 finish. In 2003 the Panthers entered 19-2 with 16 straight wins. They went 3-1 for third, matching Carey's 1994 squad.
A consistent winner, boasting eight 20-win seasons in 14 years and a 276-113 record in 16 campaigns dating to 1991, Carey has yet to crack the big nut. Its highest state finish was second in 2001. In that year Carey beat Genesee 55-49 in the opener but lost to Mackay 73-46 in the championship game.
Last year's first through fourth state placers started with Troy, a 71-48 winner over Mackay in the title game. Third went to Cascade, fourth to Nezperce, consolation to Lapwai.
Pre-tournament state rankings from Idahosports.com entering the four-day 2006 tournament have Cascade (23-0) in first place, Nezperce (22-2) second, Notus (22-2) third, Carey fourth and Lapwai (21-5) fifth.
The Genesee Bulldogs weren't considered to be the top dogs in the Second District White Pine Conference, having lost to Lapwai 46-42 Feb. 20. But defending state champion Troy stopped Nezperce's 21-game winning streak, then Genesee ousted Nezperce last Saturday.
So Carey gets Genesee.
"We match up well with Genesee," said Simpson, who watched Saturday's Genesee-Nezperce state play-in at Lewiston. "Nobody Genesee has is bigger than we are. It's a good draw. If we get by them, we get Sho-Ban or Horseshoe Bend. They both like to press."
A Carey win over Genesee today would set up a 6:15 p.m. Thursday contest at Vallivue High School against either Sho-Ban (15-2) or Horseshoe Bend (11-7). Sho-Ban is always one of the more entertaining teams at state. The Chiefs knocked off Mackay 71-53 Thursday at Firth, behind 26 points by Bobby Bear. Mackay (18-3) then made state 38-20 over North Gem Saturday at Firth.
Other first-round games today at Vallivue High: Sho-Ban vs. Horseshoe Bend at 3 p.m., Post Falls Christian vs. Richfield 6:15 p.m., and Troy vs. Council at 8 p.m.
At Caldwell High gym, it's Lapwai vs. Hagerman at 1:15 p.m., Mackay vs. Mullan 3 p.m., Cascade vs. Oakley 6:15 p.m. and Castleford vs. Notus at 8 p.m. Notus lost to Horseshoe Bend 57-53 Thursday and needed a 63-51 win over Idaho City to make state.
Top-ranked Cascade stayed undefeated by beating Council 72-56 for the Third District championship Saturday at Emmett. Coach Simpson said, "Cascade is not real big, about six kids 6-0 to 6-2, but they're nine to 10 deep and they're good athletes. Sort of like us, only they can jump."
There is no secret to Carey's game plan.
It's centered around the team's depth and the inside-outside tandem of seniors Tadd Green (417 points, 18.1 ppg) and sharpshooter Tyler Cook (351 points, 15.3 ppg). Cook has 67 3-pointers, one fewer than all the 3-pointers hit by opposing teams against Carey this year.
Green has 1,101 points in 72 Carey varsity games, fifth on the school's scoring list.
Northside Conference king Carey gained the top state seed from the Fourth District with a 66-54 over Southside Conference winner Castleford last Thursday at Murtaugh.
"It was hard fought, a very physical battle," said coach Simpson. "It was also a game of runs. We'd get away from them then they'd be back. It helped when we got the fourth foul on (Drew) Tverdy, then Tadd hit a 3-pointer and Tyler posted up low a couple of times. We played good defense all game."
Carey (6-for-17 from 3-point land compared to Castleford's 5-for-26) was also hot from the perimeter and continued its free throw dominance—16-of-24 (67%) with the Wolves shooting only four times from the line. For the season Carey is 249-for-398 (63%), foes 162-for-303.
Senior Devin Simpson (broken hand) rolled his ankle and played only 11 minutes, but his father coach Dick Simpson expects his back.
Against Castleford, Green had a monster game with 25 points on 10-for-19 shooting plus 18 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. He leads Carey with 207 rebounds, 94 on the offensive glass. He's second with 41 steals and leads with 42 blocks.
Other Panther contributors included Cook (17 points, 4 assists, 3 steals), D.J. Simpson (8 points, 7 rebounds), Allen Peck (6 points, 4 boards, 4 assists, 2 steals), Bryan Hill (4 points, 2 assists), Brad Hunt (3 points) and Cody Baird (3 points).