Arab head coach Justin Jonus had a little sympathy for Guntersville coach Brett Self leading into their teams’ game Thursday night before a large crowd at Arab’s new gym.
Some, but not much.
Guntersville, like Arab had to deal with two weeks earlier, got eight football players back on Monday as the Wildcats’ football season ended last Friday night. They had three days to prepare and Self was worried they might play a little ragged in their first time on the court in a game.
No need to worry: his Wildcats looked strong and athletic from the get-go and went on for a 59-52 win.
Jonus was surprised not at all.
“They are a seasoned, sweet 16, 20-win team, defending area champs and been ranked in the state the last two years,” Jonus said. “Those guys could walk on a rec center floor any time and be really good no matter what.”
In other words, Guntersville will probably get better with more basketball conditioning and practice.
“I think they’re good right now,” Jonus said. “They’re such good athletes, too.”
Guntersville’s situation doesn’t compare at all to Arab’s, Jonus said. The Wildcat football players have played together on the varsity before. When Arab welcomed five football players to practice, only one, James Ed Johnson, had a full season of varsity experience.
Darian Lusk – whose also coming back from an injury – and John Wesson Johnson had limited varsity experience a year ago.
“We don’t have much chemistry right now because these guys haven’t played much together at the varsity level,” Jonus said. “We lost all that size and experience we have last year (10 seniors), and we’re still trying to figure out who we are.
“We have to find an identity. Once we do that, then we can grow faster.”
Ed Johnson led the Knights with 20 points, 12 coming on four 3-pointers. Wes Johnson had 15 and John Brady Bowman added 10.
Lusk had three, and Kolby Conley and Tyler Bright had two each.
• VARSITY GIRLS
Guntersville 47, Arab 29
Arab coach Jessica Thompson didn’t like her team’s “self-inflicted turnovers” and lack of rebounding, especially late, but she believes the game will serve a purpose for the Lady Knights in the long run.
Arab actually led 14-7 after one quarter against a very talented team, which showed just how talented and physical starting in the second quarter.
“I hope tonight we proved (to ourselves) we are a pretty good team,” Thompson said. “We didn’t play scared in that first quarter, and that’s what we have to do. They have to play with confidence.
“Guntersville is one of the top teams in the state and we hung with them for most of the game.”
The Wildcats, behind the firepower of Olivia Vandergriff (19 points) and Jayden Watkins (14), surged past the Lady Knights in the second quarter, winning the period 18-4. A three-point third quarter further sealed the Lady Knights’ fate.
Guntersville scored nine in the period to go up 34-21, but four came in the final seconds. Mostly during the quarter, Guntersville kept missing shots and frequently came away with multiple offensive rebounds per trip, frustrating Thompson.
Meanwhile, Arab had trouble bringing the ball up the floor, much less getting shots off, against an aggressive Lady Wildcat zone press.
But the lead still was just nine until the final minute of the third quarter.
“They were playing man-to-man in the first half, but in the second half they backed up in a zone and hurt us with a zone press,” Thompson said. “They were sitting back and made us make decisions, and we struggled with that.”
Reagan Malone, Arab’s leading scorer with 10, kept the game from getting out of hand in the fourth quarter by asserting herself in the lane. Despite the Lady Wildcats’ intense physical presence around her, she made three strong moves to the basket for six of her seven points in the quarter.
Laney Kelley and Bryleigh Bodine, a pair of freshmen, scored six each and Sydney Ferguson, another freshman, had five. Kate Collins added two.
• JV BOYS
Arab 46, Guntersville 38
Case Couch scored 17 – including 10 in a decisive third quarter – to lead the JV Knights.
Ethan Thomas added seven points, Clayton Miller and Tre Wilks had six each and Aeron Mitchell and Jonathan England had five apiece.