When No. 1's come calling

2/5/2013

When No. 1's come calling

When No. 1's come calling

By ADAM HOLT

aholt@gctelegram.com

It's not often a school gets to host the No. 1 team in the nation. And it's downright rare to have two top-ranked squads visit on the same night.

But that's the challenge and opportunity the Garden City Community College basketball teams get Wednesday when Hutchinson comes to town, the two Blue Dragon teams bringing matching 23-0 records and best-in-the-country statuses.

"It's just a great opportunity," women's head coach Alaura Sharp said. "It's a great opportunity to play against the No. 1 team in the nation. It's a great opportunity to have a chance to beat the No. 1 team in the country."

This will be Sharp's first game coaching against a No. 1 team. Men's coach Rand Chappell has been on both sides of that equation while coaching at Phillips University (Okla.), an NAIA school. His team played as a No.1, and also took down some top-ranked squads.

But Wednesday's matchup — and the matchup that Hutchinson's past five opponents have faced — is still pretty unique. The Lady Dragons have been ranked No. 1 since the Jan. 9 poll was released, and the Hutch men took over the top spot on Jan. 15.

"Yeah. I think that's probably a rarity," Chappell said. "I guess looking back at my past, I was at an NAIA school, Phillips University in '98, we were ranked No. 1 in the nation most of the year, and our women were ranked No. 2 most of the year. And that made for a fun environment."

While it seems unlikely, there's the chance that No. 1 could fall on both the men's and women's side Wednesday. The No. 11 Lady Broncbusters (20-3, 6-3 KJCCC) tip off at 5:30 p.m. at the Perryman Athletic Complex, with the men's game scheduled to follow at 7:30.

Neither coach is letting the magnitude of the matchup go understated.

"I think there's no secret that it's not just any other game," Sharp said. "Obviously we have to understand that we've got to, No. 1, show up and play hard. We've got to really compete. It is at home, you like your chances at home. But I think you do, you gotta talk about it, you gotta let them know about the opportunity, you gotta let them know that this may be the only chance in their life — they may go on to the next level and may never play a No. 1 team again."

So why could Garden City do what Colby and Cloud County couldn't pull off in the same situation?

On the women's side, the Lady Busters are the only other ranked Jayhawk West team. The team's first meeting this season was a 61-46 Garden City loss on the road, when Hutch was ranked No. 2. The only other division team to play the Lady Dragons that close was Butler, in a 58-45 game in El Dorado.

Plus, Garden City has lost six straight games to Hutchinson. Sharp beat the Dragons at home the first time she faced them, 56-52, on Jan. 18, 2010. Since then, the results have been lopsided in favor of Hutch.

And Saturday, GCCC's women got a taste of pent-up frustration, when Butler creamed them, 73-46, to snap a four-game stretch of heartbreaking losses for the Grizzlies to the Busters.

"I told the team in the locker room today, we talked about the intensity that Butler played with," Sharp said. "If there's anything that we take from that game, we need to learn how they approach the game. And when is enough enough, and stepping up and putting your foot down and saying, 'We've had enough. We're turning this around; we're gonna get going in the right direction, and we're not going to lose to them anymore.'"

The Buster men are 10-13 overall and 2-7 in KJCCC play, currently riding a five-game losing streak. But in their first meeting, they were in a tight game the whole way through before absorbing a 65-58 loss.

That game sparked an upset of then-No. 9 Barton two days later, and a road win at Colby before the current skid. Chappell said a lot of things will have to come together for GCCC to stun another ranked team. It will take "tremendous energy and effort," and some help from the crowd wouldn't hurt, either.

"I was watching Digger Phelps on College Gameday this weekend, and he was talking about the formula to beat No. 1," Chappell said. "One of the things he had down for the formula was unbelievable energy in the building and crowd noise, and support. I hope we can get some of that on Wednesday. If we can get some momentum with the team going, hopefully the crowd can help us pull off an upset."

The game is being touted as "Throwback '80s Night," and fans are encouraged to wear 1980s attire to "Throw back the Blue Dragons." Sharp said it was planned as something fun for the fans, and hopes it will give students another reason to come to the game — and hopefully, help spark an upset for the home team.

"I think the other thing that helps you get over the hump is creating an atmosphere for success," she said. "The sixth man is exactly why we beat Hutch several years ago. We were down 12, our student section came, they were dressed up, they were going crazy, and we went on like a 16-0 run to win the game."

Sharp conceded that there's a good chance Hutchinson will win the division, as it sits at 7-0, and second-place Cloud County has two league losses. But there's little pressure on two Busters squads who would be expected to fall, which could make for a surprising night for the home teams.

"You approach it like you've got nothing to lose and everything to gain," Sharp said. "They have something to lose, so I think you try to keep the game as close as you can, and hope they crack under pressure."

Notes: Busters forward Joe Ebondo, who suffered a high ankle sprain to his left ankle in Saturday's loss to Butler, is likely to be a game-time decision Wednesday.

Guard Jamez Jones is suspended indefinitely from the team for a violation of team policy. Jones was arrested by the Kansas Highway Patrol on Jan. 23 on an out-of-county arrest warrant. Chappell said Jones was checked during a traffic stop caused by another driver, and due to a previous stop for an allegation of driving with a suspended license, was arrested and jailed on two counts of failure to appear in court.

Chappell said he will have a discussion with Jones when he is released from Cowley County Jail about his future with the program.

The GCCC teams are at Barton C.C. on Saturday for 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. games.

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