Just when the GHS athletic department and its basketball coaches and players thought they had a roadmap for the end of the regular season, the Arkansas Activities Association moved the finish line. Last Friday the AAA notified schools across the state that the state tournaments would be pushed back a week to allow more time for makeup games or conference tournaments to determine which teams qualify for post-season play.
"The AAA sent out a memo [Friday] afternoon with changes to the state tournaments and state finals," said Greenwood Athletic Directory Dr. Dustin Smith. "They moved them back a week, and that gave us two weeks to finish the season. There was also a directive that each conference could [have] a conference tournament or play out the regular season [schedule], and our conference decided we were going to play a conference tournament for the girls and the boys. I could not tell you that was the vote of Greenwood schools, but it was the vote of the group."
Originally, as described in a recent Dog Pound article, only the GHS boys were to play in a league tournament next week while the GHS girls would complete their remaining three regular season games. But with Friday’s announcement from the AAA, a majority of 5A West member schools voted to have a conference tournament for the girls as well.
With Covid-19 and the possibility of bad weather, the move was not totally unexpected, at least according to Lady Bulldogs’ Head Coach Clay Reeves. “Hopefully all the games will be made up,” he said earlier this month. “But somebody could have some sickness [or bad weather] the last week. I anticipate having a tournament just because I think something will come up. Anything can happen,” he added. And so it has.
But Reeves and his girls have little to fear or lose from having a conference tournament, considering they are still unbeaten (11-0) in conference play and will be the #1 seed, having already been assured of a playoff slot. They are simply playing for a better seed and the possibility of finishing undefeated in conference play.
Both GHS teams will conclude a shortened (12 games) conference season Tuesday night at home against Siloam Springs. It will also be senior night for Greenwood and both starting lineups are heavily populated with seniors. The pre-game festivities to honor them will begin at 5:30 p.m. at H.B. Stewart Arena.
Kinley Fisher, Ally Sockey, Haven Clements, Shea Goodwin, and Evan Brown are looking to win another state championship to go along with their 2020 title won last year, despite not being allowed to play the title game against Nettleton due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Both schools were awarded state crowns instead.
For the Bulldogs, seniors Braden Stein, Caleb Ligon, and Evan Bartlett are all starters and have been with Coach Husband during his entire three-year tenure at Greenwood. They have improved every season and this year have a legitimate chance to qualify for the post-season and take the program to a new level of accomplishment. Their nine wins are already two more than the combined seven victories in their first two campaigns.
The ‘Dogs can reach double-digits with a win over Siloam Springs Tuesday night, while the Lady Bulldogs (19-3) will be seeking their 20th win this season. Greenwood won both games at Siloam Springs in mid-January. The girls will tip-off around six o’clock after the senior night presentations, with the boys’ game to follow around 7:30 p.m.
Aside from pride, the Lady Bulldogs don’t have much at stake Tuesday, but not so for the GHS boys, who can improve their conference tournament standing with a win over the Panthers. The Bulldogs could earn a #4 seed, giving them a chance at having two tournament home games, improving their odds of qualifying for the state playoffs.
Originally set for March 2-6 at Hot Springs High School, the state tournament will now begin March 8th with the championship game to be played at Hot Springs Convention Center the weekend of March 18-20.
Hopefully, the GHS boys will need only to win their first game in the conference tournament to qualify for state, but that remains to be seen, with other games yet to be played across the league besides the Greenwood - Siloam Springs’ contest. Tournament brackets will be updated and released late next week.
If the Bulldogs beat the Panthers on Tuesday, earning the fourth seed, they won’t begin league tournament play until next Monday (6 p.m.) against a yet-to-be-determined opponent. Such a scenario would allow them plenty of practice time and a chance for Coach Husband to keep his players rested and fresh.
The team just came off several days of unplanned R-and-R due to the recent wintry weather and the closing of school. The ‘Dogs returned to the practice floor Friday morning before news of the AAA announcement was known.
“We’ve been pretty much out of the gym all week,” said the coach on Friday before the start of practice. “We had an open gym yesterday and a lot of them were [here], but we’ll be back practicing today, tomorrow, Sunday and Monday, so that should prepare us for Tuesday just fine.”
But Husband also acknowledged that the time off might prove to be beneficial at this stage of the season. “It could be,” he said. “I think we were a little beat up and had a couple of nagging injuries kids have been dealing with. There’s no doubt that a little time off is a good thing. If we play well Tuesday night then the off days did us a lot of good, but if we don’t play well you can look at it the other way,” he added. “It can be good or bad. We’ll see.”
Asked about last week’s game cancellations and the need for a conference tournament, Husband said, “Yeah. That’s the gist of it. I think Mountain Home missed some games early [due to Covid-19] and weren’t going to be able to make all those up, so the powers-that-be decided a conference tournament was the best direction to go. It is what it is. It’s probably a positive thing for us in the long run,” he added.
Husband also talked about Tuesday’s opponent, who lost to Greenwood earlier this season, 53-50. “I think Siloam Springs has dealt with more Covid issues than anybody in the conference. They’ve had starters in and out of the lineup all year long. [But] they are very capable of being a top team.
“On film they’ve played some good games,” he continued. “[They] can be good on any given night because they put so many shooters on the floor. [But] it’s always [nice] to play somebody you’ve already beaten, [and] we know we can beat them. I’m sure they think they can beat us [too], but at this point they haven’t done it yet.”
If the Bulldogs falter against the Panthers on Tuesday, they will be the #5 seed and open conference tournament play Friday night at home starting at 6 p.m. The opponent won’t be known until after Tuesday’s results are posted. But win or lose on Tuesday, the GHS boys will have the luxury of playing their first league tournament game at home, and perhaps the first two games before possibly traveling to Russellville on Tuesday, March 2nd. The Cyclones are the top seed in the 5A West.
Asked about the advantage of playing their next two or three games at home, the coach said, “That means a lot. With [Tuesday] being senior night and the girls playing too, I think people have gained an appreciation and like watching our guys play. They appreciate the effort [our players] put forth and the success they’ve [had] this season.
“We’ve established a good following, and hopefully that will help us, because I believe it’s going to be a tight, hard-fought game [against the Panthers]. So it’s nice to have that game at home.”
Cautious to not look too far ahead, Coach Husband also hopes for a chance to return to Russellville and take another crack at the Cyclones, who have beaten the Bulldogs twice by double digits this season. “I’m just foolish enough to [want to] go back to [Russellville] again just to see how our guys respond. But we’ve got a lot [of work] to do before we get to that point.
“Going to Russellville or anywhere [else] would be exciting because [we’re] still playing and have games that matter. It means that we’re playing the next week in the state tournament, and that would be a tremendous accomplishment for our guys,” added Husband.
The GHS girls will play at home on Tuesday, March 2, in their conference tournament opener, having earned a bye into the semi-finals. They will also likely play at home on Thursday, March 4, in the tournament final. They will need two victories to secure their #1 seed into the state playoffs, where they are heavily favored to return to the 5A title game.
No team in Class 5A has been able to keep up with the deep, talented, and experienced Lady Bulldogs, who have won many of their games by mercy rule. Their three losses have come against much larger Class 6A schools, and two of those in overtime. One of the best in the state, Coach Reeves now has eight state titles under his belt, five of them at Greenwood.