Garden City vs. Hays-Friday, January 17-pregame 5:45 p.m.; tipoff 6 p.m.
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Garden City, Kan (westernkansasnews.com)-If the Garden City boys learned anything from that first meeting with Hays it was this: Never keep punching back.
Jacy Holloway’s squad was down by as many as 19 points on December 7 in the championship game of the Hays shootout, only to find themselves with a chance to steal it in the end.
“There’s no surprises on my end,” Holloway said. “I picked Hays to win the conference this year; they’re that good.”
That may very well be true, but Garden City did everything right in the final 8 minutes that they couldn’t put together in the first 24. If they could have added two more minutes to that first meeting, they probably win the game.
Meantime Hays has been unstoppable ever since. The Indians are off to their first 8-0 start in 43 years (70-71 team is the last one to do that; they finished 18-2 under Coach Slone). Not only are they one of the best scoring teams in 5A, they are sporting the number one defensive squad. Not bad for a team coming off it’s first state tournament trip since 2003.
And the Indians are loaded. 6-7 Brady Werth is averaging nearly a double-double. His last outing against Garden City might be his most pedestrian of the season. The reigning Western Athletic Conference player of the year has scored in double figures in 7 out of 8 games this season.
The other double-figure scorer is sophomore Jordan Windholz, who hit a couple of big threes the first time these two teams hooked up.
Then there’s point guard Kyler Nierenberger, who may well be the best setup man in the class. His 8.1 assists per game is one of the best in 5A. Just ask the Buffs how good he is; he dished out 10 dimes back on December 7.
2013-2014 is definitely a rebuilding year for the Hays girls. The 0-8 Lady Indians have been severely outmatched from the get go. And it’s easy to see why, considering what they lost from last year’s squad.
Take away 80 points and 528 rebounds, and you’re left with a pretty young team that’s still trying to find an identity. So far there has been one constant: Blowouts. Hays has lost seven of their eight games by 10 points or more.
Garden City on the other hand is been the exact opposite. Their three losses have been by a total of 19 points; two of those were six point defeats to 6-1 Great Bend.
The Buffs will still be without Taylor Lineberger, who’s out indefinitely with an injured hand. But there might be some optimism to get her back before substate.
“You can see the difference when Taylor is out on the floor,” Head Coach David Upton said. “These girls are a very closely-knit group.”
It’s that closeness that got them to a school record 17 wins last year. But 2014 has brought with it a plethora of inconsistencies.
“We’re still searching for our identity,” Upton said.
That identity should over match a youthful Hays team. But as they always say, anything is possible in the WAC.