Posted Online: Jan. 09, 2013, 10:24 pm

Rock Island girls hope to keep rest of Big 6 in rear-view mirror

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Photo: Clark Brooks / PhotoNews
Jacqueline Twing tries to pass a loose ball away from Lady Knights' Gabby Cunningham during first half action at the 2012 State Farm Holiday Classic basketball tournament. At the break, Rock Island led Richwoods 36-35 in the semifinal game at Normal Community.
With the first half of the Western Big 6 Conference girls' basketball season in the rear-view mirror, the league race is shaping up to be another good one.

Rocky is clearly the top team, but the familiarity between the coaches and players makes every Thursday night a toss up. United Township keeps nipping at Rocky's heels, and will have its chance to exact revenge on the Rocks next week. However, neither team can afford to look ahead.

In this week's Associated Press poll, three of the six teams got some notice, including basement-dwelling Alleman who received votes despite being winless in the Big 6.

Rock Island (18-2, 5-0 Big 6) at Alleman (10-8, 0-5): The Pioneers picked up a few votes in the latest state poll and have been hot post-Christmas. However, Alleman is still without a win in the league, and will really be up against it tonight. In the conference opener, Rock Island beat the Pioneers by 23, and while Alleman has gotten better, so has Rock Island. The Rocks knocked off two-time defending Iowa Class 3A state champions Assumption last Saturday, and were rewarded with a No. 7 ranking in the state's 4A poll. ... The 3-pointers have been coming fast and furious for Rocky as Carlee Hoover and Jacqueline Twing provide outside firepower, and Mercedes Jackson cleans up any loose stuff underneath. ... Alleman's Erin Morrisey has been the biggest delight of the season as she has progressed into another Pioneer mainstay in the paint. After losing to the Rocks Nov. 20, Pioneer coach Jay Hatch said he had a month and a half to figure out how to stop the Rocks. We'll see if he has found a way.

Galesburg (13-6, 3-2) at Moline (7-15, 2-3): If the Streaks want to keep their Big 6 hopes alive, they have to get a win on the road. The Maroons appear to be in a transition phase as underclassmen are playing a more prominent role every game. Freshman forward Lexie Gerard compliments senior sister Morgan Gerard, and the sophomores are 17-2 and could be sending more help to the varsity. ... The Streaks have been just that this season -- streaky. They've won six of their last seven games and have a very important stretch coming up before post-season starts next month. ... Jessica Leiber and Sharron Diggins will be the Streaks to stop for Steve Ford's club.

Quincy (9-7, 1-4) at United Township (11-7, 4-1): Speaking of playing hot right now, the Panthers are looking awfully tough. Defensively, UT has been stubborn, only giving up about 38 points per game this year. Things will be interesting tonight though as the Blue Devils have started to surge. Arai'ya Dade could cause problems for the top of UT's zone, while 6-foot-4 forward Jordan Fletcher is always an imposing force in the middle. It'll be up to Jamie and Jen VanWatermeulen to keep Dade from penetrating and up to Katie Daggett to keep Fletcher off the glass. Offensively, eh, UT always figures out a way to score, and when you're keeping opponents to less than 40 points there's always a way. Tayler Dobrinske will be the sharpest shooter on the court tonight, and can drain 3s from any part of the arc.

MLK Tournament: Galesburg hosts one of the most important tournaments in the state over the next two weekends, the Martin Luther King Classic. Alleman, UT and of course Galesburg all play in it, and there are several games to highlight. Saturday, Alleman and Galesburg will each get its crack at 3A's No. 3 team, Champaign Centennial. UT also play Centennial, but not until the Jan. 19. That same day, the Panthers will play 3A's No. 10 team, Morton, which hope will be a healthy Sarah Livingston. The senior and Illinois signee wasn't 100 percent when Rocky faced Morton at the State Farm Holiday Classic. Alleman gets their shot at Morton on Saturday night after playing Centennial in the morning.

Other weekend games: Rocky also has an important contest as they're taking on 2A's No. 6 ranked Sherrard. The battle of big school vs. small school is always more important for the underdogs, so the Rocks better be wary of a very solid Tiger club looking to make headlines. Moline is off this weekend, with no games between Thursdays.
Contact girls' basketball reporter Dan Tomlin at