Melbourne climbs state charts; no. 1 in Class AA, no. 10 overall
With the type of success the Melbourne Bearkatz have enjoyed the first part of the season, it's no wonder they are showing up on the state's basketball radar screens.
The Bearkatz, owners of a perfect 23-0 record and this year's Lyon College High School Tournament title, hold the number one spot in Class AA and are also ranked number 10 overall in a group that includes powerhouses Little Rock Parkview, Conway, East Poinsett County, and Fayetteville.
By looking at Melbourne's performance in the North Arkansas College Senior Boys' Invitational Tournament, one can see exactly why the Bearkatz are a team to be reckoned with.
The Bearkatz captured the tournament title Jan.11 with a 50-37 win over the Bergman Panthers.
Melbourne's path to the title game proved they are capable of playing any style of ball needed to win.
The Jasper Pirates, Melbourne's first round opponent, tried to hold the ball and keep the Bearkatz from touching it on offense. The result; a 55-23 Melbourne win.
In the semi-finals, the Rural Special Rebels favored a more uptempo affair to spotlight their long distance shooters. The result; a 56-49 Melbourne win.
And in the finals, Bergman looked to work the ball inside to feature their pair of 6-4 post players. The result; predictably, a 50-37 Melbourne win.
"We've been working on that every day in practice. We try to be prepared to play any style that we might see," said Bearkat Head Coach Mike Watson. "It's really important to be versatile. I don't think you can be married to any one system and go very far anymore."
The Bearkatz flashed their killer instinct early as they jumped on the Panthers and refused to let up.
All-Tournament team members Andrew McFarland (15 points) and Jordan Davidson (21 points) each nailed a pair of treys in the first period as Melbourne opened up a 22-8 lead after one.
"We wanted to take the ball inside early to see how Bergman would defend our post players," Watson said. "When they switched to a zone early, I knew we could hit some shots against it if we moved the ball."
The Bearkatz continued to take the ball directly to the bigger Panthers in the second frame as Chad Milligan, a member of the All-Tournament team, hit a jumper in the lane with 5:33 to play in the period, giving Melbourne a 27-12 advantage.
After Davidson busted his third 3-ball of the first period to extend Melbourne's lead to 34-17, the Panthers closed the period with a 6-0 run to narrow the gap to 34-23 at halftime.
"We kind of got their post players in a little bit of foul trouble in the first and that also kind of opened up the outside for us a little," said Watson.
The Bearkatz came out of the lockerroom strong in the third as McFarland sank a couple of 3s, and Milligan slipped inside for a layup to push Melbourne in front 42-25 with 2:00 left in the period.
Much as they did before the half, the Panthers closed the frame with a 5-0 run, but they still trailed 42-32 after three.
The Panthers, a strong team in their own right with a 22-2 record, could not overcome the Bearkatz' quickness in the final period as Melbourne remained unbeaten on the year with the 50-37victory.
"I think we went a long ways last week toward showing that we can play with anyone," said Watson. "If we can play well in the state tournament, I really think we can have success there as well."
Watson said that while his team is well aware of the position they hold in the state rankings, they know what really counts.
"We were ranked number three in Class AA going into the state tournament last year and we lost to the number one ranked team at the time (Turrell)," Watson said. "So I think our kids know that these rankings are just on paper and the important thing is how you compete on the court that counts."