South Xtra: Monessen's focus is on Wilkinsburg

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With the WPIAL Class A boys basketball playoffs now in full swing, Monessen coach Joe Salvino believes there is an advantage to being the No. 3 seed in the 16-team tournament.

"You have two programs in [top seeds] Lincoln Park and Vincentian and I think the No. 3 team is always laying in the weeds," he said. "That's what No.3 is, but it's a motivational thing for us.

"I tell the players we want to be mentioned with those programs and prepare to go to battle so we can beat those teams. If we get that opportunity, we'll see what we have to do."

What the Greyhounds "have to do" is beat a team they've already beaten this season in Friday night's tournament quarterfinals when they meet Wilkinsburg at 8 p.m. at Baldwin High School.

In that first game on Dec. 21, the Greyhounds -- now 18-5 on the season -- defeated the Tigers, 73-51. Salvino doesn't anticipate a similar lopsided result this time around.

"They're a lot more disciplined now," he said. "It was early in the season, and [Wilkinsburg first-year coach Eugene Wilson] has a nice young team. They are athletic, and those kids had to adapt to his coaching style. It takes a little time to do that."

Since a 107-83 loss to Vincentian on Jan. 20, Wilkinsburg has reeled off six successive wins, the latest a 74-62 victory against Union this past Friday in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

That winning streak boosted Wilkinsburg's overall record to 13-7. The Tigers finished their Section 4-A schedule with a 9-1 record, four games ahead of runner-up Winchester Thurston.

Since beginning the season with four losses in its first seven games, Monessen has been virtually flawless with just a 72-59 loss to Class AAAA Hempfield Area on Jan. 30. Hempfield is the Section 1-AAAA champion and advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals this Saturday.

The Greyhounds also have reeled off six consecutive wins with the latest being a 78-54 first-round victory against Eden Christian last Friday.

Coming off that victory, Salvino said his Greyhounds have a good approach to their task.

"I think this team is focused on what they have to do," he said. "We're trying to live up to some expectations of previous years."

Salvino said his team's defense -- which is yielding just 54.1 points per game -- was particularly effective against Eden Christian. But it took a while.

"In the second quarter, we started playing the type of ball we're capable of playing," he said. "In the first couple of minutes of the first quarter, we were sluggish because we didn't have school on Thursday [because of inclement weather], so we couldn't practice. We were able to go over some of Eden Christian's tendencies on the day of the game."

Once the Greyhounds began to live up to their namesakes in the second quarter, there was no holding them back. After seizing a 16-8 lead in the first quarter, Monessen expanded its lead, outscoring Eden Christian in the next three quarters.

Clintell Gillaspie, who finished the regular season averaging 18.1 points per game, led Monessen with 22 points. Fellow senior guard Javon Brown, who is averaging 14.3 points a game, added 20. Salvino likes the leadership Brown has shown as the 'Hounds point guard.

"He runs our offense," Salvino said. "He shakes things up and can penetrate and dish the ball or score if he can. He's also our leader on defense. We'll put him on [the opposing team's] best guard. He means a great deal to this team. He's come on strong this year."

Playing tough teams has been a staple of Salvino teams since he started coaching at Monessen 30 years ago. He believes the tough non-section schedule has prepared his team for however long the playoff run lasts, and he'll continue to coach that way.

Among the Greyhounds' 18 victims is Uniontown, which defeated Ambridge, 66-57, Tuesday in the Class AAA playoffs to improve its record to 20-1.The Red Raiders' only loss was a 74-70 setback to Monessen on Jan. 4.

"I think [a tough schedule] helps tremendously," he said. "It helps a coach realize what his team is all about and what kind of character they're going to have and how they're going to handle situations against a strong opponent.

"I think that helps you in your section and when you get into the playoffs. Everyone wants to win, but sometimes you learn from mistakes and losses."

What Salvino doesn't like is having a whole week off between his first-round game and Friday's game with Wilkinsburg. He'd much rather have played on Tuesday night.

"I don't think [a week off] helps," he said. "It doesn't allow you to get on any kind of routine, especially this year with the weather the way it's been.

"Sometimes, we've been playing three or four games in a week, so I believe you become consistent by doing the same thing over and over again."

If the Greyhounds do win on Friday, it would put them in the semifinals against the winner of another quarterfinal between Vincentian and Clairton. That game will be played next Tuesday.


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