Northern 4A boys hoops wide open

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Oh, those cliches. You always hear them. Expect to hear them repeated over the next five weeks as the Northern 4A boys basketball season unfolds, all leading up to the regional tournament on Feb. 12-15 at Spanish Springs High School in Sparks.

In this case, the cliches appear to be accurate because both the Sierra and High Desert league races appear to be wide open.

"Top to bottom, I would say this is the best balance I've seen up in the North," said Tom Maurer, whose Galena Grizzlies have won four Northern 4A tournament championships in the last five years. "All of the coaches are saying the same thing ... you're going to have to come prepared for a fight every night, and if you don't, you're going to lose."

First-place in the High Desert League is literally a tossup between Reed (2-0 in league, 12-4 overall), Elko (2-0, 10-5), McQueen (2-1, 11-5) and Galena (1-1, 7-8). The picture is similar in the Sierra League, where six teams appear very capable of contending for the four regional tournament berths: Hug (2-0, 14-3), Carson (2-0, 13-6), Wooster (1-0, 6-6), Reno (1-1, 9-7), South Tahoe (0-1, 6-9) and Douglas (0-2, 4-10).

Not surprisingly, there will be some big games tonight when play resumes in both leagues. Start with a pair of arch rivals, as Carson hosts Douglas in a double header that should pack Morse Burley Gymnasium. The Douglas and Carson girls, both unbeaten in league play, take the court at 5:15 p.m., followed by the boys at 7.

And just up the Mt. Rose Highway, Galena hosts Reed in what shapes up to be an important boys contest.

"I'm really impressed with the way Reed is playing right now," Maurer said. "They have a lot of seniors and it shows because they're playing with a lot of confidence."

These are obviously not must win conditions. Just yet, anyway.

On Thursday, Galena visits Sparks ... "Lyle (Damon, Sparks coach) has done a good job over there," Maurer said.

Meanwhile, Carson comes back on Friday and play at Wooster, a team that knocked off Reno and highly regarded 6-foot-11 center David Padgett 47-45 on Dec. 18. Douglas is at home on Friday to play South Tahoe, a dangerous outside shooting team that won its season opener at Galena.

"This league is going to be a dog fight every night. I do not think there is one team out there that cannot beat another," Douglas coach Keith Lewis said.

Led by Will Thomas and Erik Olson, he Tigers have shown signs of potential. This is also a team that rebounded from a 1-4 start in league last year and won five straight games down the stretch to finish second.

"We've done a lot of things at critical times that have contributed to us losing a lot of ball games. We have just got to find a way to stop making the critical mistake," Lewis said. "We've been there in our games. I guess that's the encouraging part. I don't think we're in a league where there's a dominant team, so we haven't dug ourselves into a hole that we can't get out of. We've got to have some guys step up and make some plays and we need to find a way to defend hard all four quarters."

Tonight, Douglas will have to contend with a Carson team that has shown an ability to shoot the lights out this season. Maurer was impressed with what he saw of the Senators in their 69-62 win at home against Las Vegas Silverado on Saturday.

"Bruce has them playing well and they have good senior leadership. You hear a lot about Inglima and Buttner, but I think McKenzie and Hartman do a lot for that team. They have four solid ball players there," Maurer said. "You could see when the game got close, they had some kids step up and get the job done. And I like the way they D it up."

Saturday was a good way to get ready for league, according to Barnes.

"There's no easy ones from here on out," Barnes said. "That's kind of what we talked about. Tonight was kind of a tuneup and from here on out, they're all for all the marbles."

Teams have jockeyed for position in years past, especially since the first- and second-place finishers have earned the right to host first-round playoff games. That isn't the case now because all of the regional tournament action will take place at Spanish Springs, but it won't matter. That's because the coaches say they just hope to get to the postseason.

"This is one of those years where you just want to make sure you qualify, more than anything else" Barnes said. "It doesn't really matter who you play on the other side because they're all comparable, and I think they look at us the same way.

"Somebody's going to get left out that is very capable of winning and that's why you can't slip up, especially at home. That's what I'm telling my guys. We've got to win at home. It's kind of a must."

He expects the regional tournament will offer even more excitement.

"I think they're all going to be nail-biters to the end," Barnes said of the regional tournament. "I would be stunned if there's any blowouts."

This all figures to provide excitement for the fans, and the competition can only help the teams.

"That's how you prepare for the playoffs," Maurer said. "For years we've talked about how the Las Vegas teams beat each other up night-in and night-out. This year, I think the teams up North are going to beat each other up night-in and night-out. I don't know which two teams from up here will go to the state tournament, but whoever they are, I think they will be well prepared."

Dave Price is a sports writer for the Nevada Appeal


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