By Cam Huffman
One would think that Westside would prefer to forget its worst game of the 2013-14 season, a 76-54 Valentine’s Day massacre at Robert C. Byrd that was anything but sweet for the Renegades.
Westside big man Justin Cogar, though, has made sure he doesn't forget it.
In his locker hang newspaper clippings of Westside’s only double-digit loss of the season, one in which the 6-foot-4 junior was held well below his 16-point average with just six points.
Today at 1 p.m., Cogar and his teammates will have the opportunity to write new headlines when the fourth-seeded Renegades (19-7) take on No. 1 seed RCB (23-0) in the semifinal round of the Class AA boys basketball tournament.
To exact revenge for the second straight game — Westside knocked off Bridgeport 65-58 in Wednesday’s quarterfinal, avenging a 2013 quarterfinal loss to the Indians that ended the season — the Renegades will have to make some major improvements.
The first time around, Westside shot just 30 percent from the field, while allowing RCB to scorch the nets for 54 percent.
Leading scorer Corey Bowles (18 ppg) missed all eight of his field goal attempts and scored just five points,. Cogar, meanwhile, was quiet in the paint.
"We couldn't have played any worse, but, at the same time, give Robert C. Byrd all the credit," said Westside head coach Nick Cook, looking back on that long road trip up north. "They played phenomenal basketball that night. Their defense took us out of a lot of things we wanted to do, and they shot the ball well. They got to the rim, and that's something we have to do a better job at — keeping them out of the paint and penetration. Hopefully we'll do a lot of things differently than we did on that trip."
The first task will be slowing down junior Devonti Birch, who scored 21 points in the February meeting. The Renegades will also have to keep a close eye on 6-foot senior Kevin Steele, who scored 16, but perhaps the most important assignment will be slowing down big man Justin Noble. The 6-5 junior had 14 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots in that first meeting.
"We know they like to play really fast and get up and down," said Westside point guard Will Fox, who's averaging 12 points per game coming into today's contest and coming off a near triple-double in the win over Bridgeport. "They've got a big that they like to get it into, but we think our big (Cogar) can definitely play with him a lot better than we did last time."
Winning the battle in the paint is just part of the equation, though. A team doesn't win 23 straight games unless it can win in a variety of ways.
"Our team is a team," said RCB head coach Bill Bennett after a 65-34 thumping of East Fairmont in the quarterfinals. "No one person is more important than the other. It can be somebody different every night that can beat you. I've talked to the opposing coaches, and they say the scouting report is that you can't focus on one or two guys.
"This is one of the first years I've coached where we haven't worked on an offense to run against a box-and-one or a triangle-and-two, because we just don't feel like anybody can play that against us. We've got eight kids that can put the ball in the basket."
That's exactly what happened the first time, as the Eagles spread the wealth and opened up an 11-2 lead early and extended that to 34-13 before Westside even knew what hit it. At that point, junior Justin Kenneda's 16 point, eight rebound effort was too little, too late.
With the season on the line, though, Cook expects anything but a repeat performance today.
"We've been through a lot," he said. "We're battle tested. I think we'll be ready. We'll be prepared."
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.