Top teams unchanged as postseason nears

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Every basketball coach with a tough league rival has said it many times. It's difficult to beat a team three times in one season.

With a familiar league opponent, the more often the two teams meet, the better they continue to learn the opposing team -- each player's strengths and weaknesses, as well as the team's tendencies.

Such was the case in two Southeast Region rivalries this week. While one team managed the difficult three-game sweep, another upset its previously undefeated rivals.

In Alabama, reigning 6A champion Bob Jones (Madison, Ala.) had been chasing league rival Sparkman (Harvest, Ala.) all season. Sparkman won the team's earlier meetings by identical 45-40 scores, while Jones' only other loss was to No. 1 South Bend Washington in December's T-Mobile Inviational.

When the two Alabama squads met Saturday for the Area 15 championship, then-No. 25 Sparkman took a spotless 29-0 record into its third meeting with then-No. 37 Bob Jones. But the Patriots had no intentions of losing to Sparkman a third time, using a 15-5 third quarter to propel them to a 40-28 win.

Seniors Jala Harris and Sametria Gideon each scored 12 to lead Bob Jones, while Gideon was named the Area 15 tournament MVP. LSU-bound Adrienne Webb led Sparkman with 10.

In North Carolina, then-No. 29 Butler (Matthews, N.C.) took care of then-No. 39 East Mecklenburg (Charlotte, N.C.) for the third time with a 65-54 win Feb. 3. The 4A Southwestern Conference opponents will likely meet up again, with East Mecklenburg out for even more revenge. All three of the Eagles' losses this season came at the hands of Butler -- a 62-47 loss in the Bojangles Shootout, a 50-43 league contest a week later and last week's 11-point loss.

The Eagles even took an eight-point lead into halftime Feb. 3, but Butler's 6-foot-2 sophomore Cierra Burdick hit a three to open the second half and the Bulldogs rolled from there.

Led by Burdick's 21 points and 15 rebounds, four Bulldogs finished in double-digits. East Carolina signee Celeste Stewart added 16 points and nine rebounds. Senior Danaira Erwin-Spencer led East Mecklenburg with 20 points.

But for these two rivalries, it likely won't stop at three. Butler and East Mecklenburg should meet in their conference tournament, and possibly again at state, while Sparkman and Bob Jones are on a collision course for round four in this week's regional play.

And one
The oft-forgotten third prong of the Philadelphia Catholic League's top trio, Archbishop Wood, claimed the PCL's top seed for the league tournament that starts Thursday. Wood, No. 16 Archbishop Carroll and No. 4 Cardinal O'Hara each finished with one league loss -- Wood to Carroll, Carroll to O'Hara and O'Hara to Wood -- which led to a coin flip Thursday that named Wood the top seed, followed by O'Hara and Carroll, who will likely meet in the semifinals, with the winner likely facing Wood in the Feb. 23 championship.

The Marquee
No. 47 Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.) isn't breezing into the playoffs. One week after claiming its 27th CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens title, and a No. 1 seed into the class AA state playoffs, with Saturday's win against The Mary Louis Academy, the Royals head to New Jersey this weekend for two games. Opening the trip Friday is a contest against No. 33 St. John Vianney (Holmdel, N.J.), giving fans a matchup of talented and well-coached teams.

Off the bounce
Then-No. 34 Cajon (San Bernadino, Calif.) took a one-point lead into halftime against No. 3 Mater Dei (Santa Ana. Calif.), but couldn't hold on as the Monarchs outscored Cajon 20-12 in the third quarter and went on to a 64-56 win Friday at the Nike Extravaganza. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led Mater Dei with 21 points, while teammate Alexyz Vaioletama added 13. California signee Layshia Clarendon, who played summer ball with Mosqueda-Lewis, led Cajon with 28 points. … Courtney Osborn made Thursday's senior night at then-No. 46 Hamilton Southeastern (Fishers, Ind.) even more special. The senior guard scored 25 points on her way to becoming the Royals' all-time leading scorer. As Hamilton Southeastern claimed its league title, Osborn, headed to Ohio's Miami University in the fall, ran her career point total to 1,291, knocking off alumna Erica Roudebush from the top of the chart. … With a 56-38 win against Bogan Saturday, No. 7 Whitney Young (Chicago) won its fourth city championship in five years. Sophomore point guard Chanise Jenkins led the way with 20 points for Young, which wraps up its regular season this week.

Fayette County (Fayetteville, Ga.) debuts at No. 44 after a 73-50 win against Mays (Atlanta, Ga.), likely the Tigers' toughest competition for a Georgia 4A title.

Hopkins (Minnetonka, Minn.), now 20-2, lost to Robbinsdale Armstrong (Plymouth, Minn.), 75-56, Feb. 3.

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Mindi Rice is a staff writer for ESPN HoopGurlz. She previously was an award-winning sportswriter at the Tacoma News Tribune and a barista at Starbucks, and grew up in Seattle, where she attended Roosevelt High School before graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism. She can be reached at mindi@hoopgurlz.com.

Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the McDonald's All-American and Parade All-American Selection Committees, he formerly coached girls club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.

Records through Feb. 8.