Darren Bizarri feels as if his Black Hawk College men's basketball team will be as prepared as possible for today's Region IV semifinal game with South Suburban.|
He just hopes that the Braves are ready for the Bulldogs when they are unleashed.
"We told the kids that games aren't won or lost on the marker board," said Bizarri, whose club faces the Bulldogs this afternoon at 4 at Illinois Valley College in Oglesby. "They are won with what's in your heart and head."
Today, it might also make a difference as to how resilient the 15-15 Braves can be against the top-seeded 28-3 Bulldogs, a team ranked No. 11 nationally in the latest NJCAA Div. II poll.
"When you play South Suburban, you know it's going to be a 40-minute war," said Bizarri. "You're going to have to be tough mentally and physically for 40 minutes. That's the first hurdle to beating them. You have to play through contact, and you have to finish around the rim, and you have to make free throws."
It would also be a big help to be able to stop — or at least limit — the Bulldogs' big threats of Michael Harris and Bryce Walker. The sophomore guards from East Chicago, Ind., are SSC's top scorers, averaging 24.7 and 15.9 points, respectively.
"Harris is probably going to be the favorite for Region IV Player of the Year," said Bizarri of the 6-foot-2, 170-pounder who dropped 36 points on the Braves in their first matchup. "He may be the best player they have had since I've been at Black Hawk. He is really smooth, shoots it and can score in a lot of ways. We have to contain them both, but you also have to contain them without letting the other guys kill you."
Harris and Walker combined for 59 points when South Suburban beat BHC 97-56 in early February, but Bizarri isn't putting much stock in that result.
"It was our third game of the week and their first," he said. "We were down 16 early in the second half, and I pulled the plug knowing we had a big game coming up."
Two of the guys who were out of that game early will surely be the focus of the Bulldogs today. Freshman Duol Mayot (19.9 ppg) and sophomore Cody Cooley (12.7 ppg) lead BHC's scoring and have been the two most consistent players in an up-and-down season.
"We're going to have to get some scoring from other places,'' said Bizarri. "We just need to make sure everyone goes in and does their part. We don't need a career game out of anybody, we just need everybody to play well."
Being such a huge underdog, the Region IV fifth-seed comes into today with nothing to lose, and Bizarri hopes his young team that features just five sophomores plays that way.
"You just have to make sure they understand that at this time of year, this could be the last time that that group of people is in the locker room together," said Bizarri. "You just have to play hard for yourself and play hard for your teammates, and you have to make your own breaks."
One break the Braves hope to get today is a healthy Jared Cuban. The sophomore forward from Geneseo left practice sick on Saturday, adding just another tough break to a rough season that included a bothersome knee injury.
"We'll find out what our guys are made of," said Bizarri. "We've done everything we've done this season to prepare ourselves for this."