Prep hoops: Moir girls preview

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2011

By Mike London
SALISBURY — Rowan’s holiday girls basketball tournament used to be a free-for-all with more drama than a daytime soap.
In the decade of the 1990s, for instance, South, West, Davie, Salisbury, North and East all took turns celebrating championships.
A lot has changed. Since 2003, this event has been a Hornet parade. It used to be a big deal when a school won Sam Moir Christmas Classics back-to-back, but Salisbury has now won eight straight.
Shayla Fields, Ashley Watkins, Shi-Heria Shipp, Bubbles Phifer and Ayanna Holmes have been MVPs during the run, and the beat has gone on and on and on under four different coaches.
Salisbury has won 18 straight Moir games — 3-0 in 2004 and 2006 when it wasn’t the top seed and 2-0 the other six years.
Does the script finally change this time?
Maybe. Carson, 11-0 and the No. 1 seed by virtue of having the best record, has a chance.
This is something different. The last five years no one’s had a reasonable prayer against the Hornets, who have won title games by romps of 17, 49, 19, 40 and 25.
That 25-point margin, by the way, was the difference between the Hornets and Carson last December, when the Cougars made it to the championship game for the first time and played competitively with Salisbury for a half.
No. 2 seed Salisbury (8-2) isn’t the same towering, experienced, consistent bunch it was last season, and, obviously, you don’t graduate four Division I players and get better.
Still, for a team that has just two girls with varsity experience — senior Doreen Richardson and sophomore Brielle Blaire — this is an excellent squad. The Hornets are exceptionally quick, they hit the boards hard, they’re destructive defensively and for as young as they are, they are cohesive and unselfish.
Coach Chris McNeil has brought them along more quickly than anyone could’ve imagined, and they’ve grown up fast playing a very challenging early schedule.
The county has a handful of special girls, and Blaire is the most versatile. She’s equally at home banging inside for rebounds or draining 3s from the wing, and she’s an impossible man-to-man matchup.
The only thing Carson has in common with Salisbury is that both like to play nose-to-nose, sneaker-to-sneaker, man-to-man defense.
Everything else is so different, it’s hard to say how the teams will match up.
Carson isn’t anywhere near as quick as the Hornets and doesn’t rebound as fiercely, but the Cougars shoot the ball better, execute in the halfcourt better and are way more experienced. Carson can put the same five on the floor — three juniors, two seniors — that played in last year’s title game, and coach Brooke Misenheimer has added Alex Allen, an outstanding freshman, to the mix.
Carson averages a whopping 71 points per game, partly because it’s good and partly because the schedule hasn’t been overly strenuous. If you’re wondering, Salisbury allows 43 points per game.
It will take one of the biggest upsets in the history of hoops to prevent the Hornets and Cougars from squaring off at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday for the championship.
Salisbury already has blistered East Rowan, its first-round opponent, and has handled West Rowan, its most likely semifinal opponent, twice.
Because it earned a first-round bye, Carson only has to win one game to make the final, and it’s hard to see the Cougars faltering in the semis, whether they’re playing North Rowan or a South Rowan team that they creamed last week.
The very first Moir game the Cougars ever played was against Salisbury in 2006, and Carson got crushed 71-19.
The only two meetings since then have been Moir games — with Salisbury winning 67-20 in 2009 and 59-34 in the 2010 title matchup.
Besides its streak in the Moir, Salisbury is working on a pretty amazing run of 40 straight victories against Rowan opponents that dates back to the 2005-06 season.
After Thursday night, Salisbury could own nine straight Moir titles and 43 straight county wins. But this time the final promises to be exciting.
Today’s matchups:
Noon — South-North. The teams haven’t met this season. South holds an 8-7 edge in Moir meetings.
3 p.m.– West-Davie. The teams split pre-Christmas meetings, with both winning at home. West holds an 11-8 edge in Moir matchups with the War Eagles.
6 p.m. — Salisbury-East. The Hornets overpowered the Mustangs 67-28 early this season. All-time in the Moir, East owns a 9-8 advantage.