Friday, March 5, 2010

Berry falls in regionals, but future looks bright

Berry's boys basketball team was on a charmed run to the N.C. 2A Western Regionals. After winning only 12 games the past two seasons, the Cardinals and second-year coach Michael Willis won 23 this season.

Friday night, the Cardinals ran into a tall, disciplined Sylva Smoky Mountain team that dared Berry to shoot outside. The Cardinals didn't try much in a 75-69 loss in the regional semifinals, instead trying to drive in against a bigger team and taking tough shots.

Smoky Mountain's 6-7 junior center Jackson Simmons had a huge game: 16 points, 23 rebounds, 12 blocks and 4 assists.

I thought Berry probably should've taken some "in-between" shots from 10 to 15 feet and more open threes. The Cardinals made 4-of-10, but Smoky Mountain gave them open shots all game. Berry just wouldn't take them.

The Cardinals shot 42 percent for the game mainly because of the high degree of difficulty of the attempts. On defense, Berry frequently lagged off Smoky Mountain players. Coach Willis asked for more of pressure defense, but didn't get it enough.

Berry is a young team. Sophomores Dajuan Graf (20 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 assists) and Jaquantus Pinder (16 points, 4 rebounds) are going to be special -- and they'll know how to handle themselves in games like this one in the future. They'll use their gifts more.

Losing senior Rickey Perry (16 points, 7 rebounds) is going to hurt. He was the team's leading scorer, but I'd say Berry is an easy Sweet 16 preseason pick next season and I would certainly expect them to return to the regional round. In fact, I'd look at them as a 2A state favorite next season.

Tonight's loss hurt a lot, but the future looks awfully good.