Those who pay attention to WPIAL basketball, both on the boys and girls side, usually have to wait until late February to see the kind of compelling matchups that come with the win-or-go-home reality of the playoffs.
That does not mean there are no must-see games in the two-plus months of the regular season, however, with this week's contest between the girls' basketball teams at Blackhawk and Hopewell proving as much.
The two teams, who are among the best in Class AAA, will take to the court at Blackhawk tonight. The Cougars (15-0, 7-0) hold a firm grip on first place in the Section 2 standings and are the Post-Gazette's top-ranked Class AAA team. Hopewell (15-2, 6-2), ranked No. 4, could add some spice to the section title race with a victory.
Central Valley (14-2, 6-2) is tied with Hopewell for second place after its loss to Ambridge Monday and still must play the other prime contenders once more in the regular season.
That makes this match even bigger for Hopewell.
"It's something that, if we have any aspirations of trying to repeat as section champions, it's a game that we have to win," Hopewell coach Jeff Homziak said.
It is the second meeting between the two teams this season, with Blackhawk winning the first in a closely contested 56-52 game. It was just one of two losses on the season for the Vikings and it helped pave the way for what the Cougars have been able to accomplish thus far -- an undefeated record more than halfway through the regular season.
Hopewell star forward Shatori Walker-Kimbrough led all scorers in that game with 32 points, something that helps highlight why "pretty much all" of Blackhawk coach Steve Lodovico's gameplan is based around stopping her.
"We just didn't have an answer for her," Lodovico said. "We have to make sure we're not letting her get to the rim and shooting layups on us, which is easier said than done."
Blackhawk, just one of two remaining unbeaten girls teams in the WPIAL (Vincentian is the other), presents a more balanced attack, as all five of its starters average double figures in points per game, with Chassidy Omogrosso standing as the team's leading scorer.
But even for a team as talented as Blackhawk, beating such a skilled team twice in one season is a challenging task, especially with all of the familiarity that exists between the rival schools.
"It's hard," Lodovico said. "We know each other very well, we play each other a lot. Everything we run, they know. Everything they run, we know. It just comes down to a few plays here and there."
When South Fayette lost to Chartiers Valley last week, the Lions were on the positive side of a rare feat, as South Fayette made a shot at the buzzer at the end of all four quarters.
Evan Bonnaure beat the buzzer at the end of the first and fourth quarters, Zach Challingsworth did it at the end of the second, and C.J. Rudisill closed out the third quarter with a basket. Chartiers Valley coach Tim McConnell said afterward he was unaware of the statistical anomaly, but once told of it, he was understandably surprised.
"That's unbelievable," he said. "I don't think I've ever seen that before."
Chartiers Valley won the game, 50-46.
The week ahead
In addition to the Hopewell-Blackhawk girls' game, here are some other top matchups this week:
Tuesday, Chartiers Valley at Montour, 7:30 p.m. -- Will Montour (11-4, 6-2) be able keep Chartiers Valley center Spencer Casson in check this time around? Casson had a triple-double of 10 points, 17 rebounds and 13 blocks in a 75-62 Colts win on Jan. 4. The Colts (14-1, 8-0) are undefeated in Class AAA Section 5 and have a two-game lead over Montour. South Fayette (9-5, 5-2) is third.
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