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THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2007
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Verkeneo Mann shoots over Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa defenders Gerould Thomas and Wayne Dedrick in Austin's 74-54 victory in the Northwest Regionals on Wednesday in Hanceville. Austin plays Thompson in the Class 6A regional finals at 10:40 a.m. Saturday.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Verkeneo Mann shoots over Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa defenders Gerould Thomas and Wayne Dedrick in Austin's 74-54 victory in the Northwest Regionals on Wednesday in Hanceville. Austin plays Thompson in the Class 6A regional finals at 10:40 a.m. Saturday.

Breezing at regionals
Hot-shooting Austin moves into finals

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

HANCEVILLE — Austin coach Demond Garth says his team is good at finding the hot hand.

In Wednesday's 74-54 victory over Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa in the Northwest Regional semifinal, Garth changed his normal quote to the plural voice as four players scored in double digits and guard Jay Sears — blanketed for most of the game — acted as the main distributor, giving out seven assists.

"I wasn't making the shot and getting close to the basket," said Sears, who finished with eight points. "I knew it was something I had to step up to do for the team to win. So, I just quit trying to score and passed the ball and rebounded."

Austin will play Thompson on Saturday at 10:40 a.m. for the chance to go to Birmingham for the state semifinals.

It may be a disappointment to a large group of Austin students who were chanting "we want Sparkman" with 48 seconds left in the game.

"They cheer, and they know how to cheer," Garth said of the students who got permission from their parents to skip their morning classes. "They're not here just to be here. They're here to cheer our team on."

While there was a lot of cheering, there wasn't much of a contest.

With the exception of the first quarter which saw Austin down 16-12 and the 4:26 mark of the second frame that had the Patriots up 23-18, the Black Bears played almost flawlessly on offense and tough on defense

Austin went on a 17-3 run, which was capped by a 3-pointer by Travis Cohn to end the half to put the score at 35-26.

"(The 3-point shot) was real big," said Cohn, who finished with 15 points. "I think it set the momentum for us. We knew we were up, but we didn't want to go out there and do something crazy and let them back into the lead. That three, it put us in a comfort zone to keep playing as a team and not doing too much."

Austin's slick shooting also took Hillcrest out of its 2-3 zone. The Patriots went to man-to-man and opened up the play around the basket.

When that happened, the Black Bears used their athleticism to drive to the basket and lay the ball in, or kick it out to a shooter for an open jump shot.

"You can't stand and play one-on-one basketball," Garth said.

"You have to screen, and you have to look for an open guy. That's what our guys did.
They kept finding a hot shooter."

Sears didn't score his first field goal until the 5:21 mark of the fourth quarter.

But it didn't matter at that point since the Black Bears had a 16-point lead on the strength of Cohn and Verkeneo Mann, who finished with a team-high 18 points.

Quez Powell added 12, and George Williams had 11.

Austin was 17 of 23 in the second half and 9 of 17 from 3-point range for the game.

"This thing could end Saturday," Garth said.

"We don't want it to end Saturday, and we're trying to win. No ifs ands or buts. It's not about having fun. We are trying to win Saturday."

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