With feet straddling both 7A and 6A, Van Buren took a major step in 7A Central on Friday.
The Pointers halted a 24-game conference winning streak by Conway in a showdown of the conference’s unbeaten boys teams.
As expected, the 54-50 Van Buren victory was a struggle in philosophies. The Pointers preferred a halfcourt game with most everything funneled to 6-foot-11 post Hooper Vint, who was the dominant player of the game with 29 points. The Wampus Cats wanted to wear down the Pointers with an up-tempo fullcourt game and seemed to have their way after taking a 38-30 deep into the third quarter.
But, they discovered that either fullcourt or halfcourt fizzles when you can’t hit baskets.
Van Buren produced a decisive 20-5 run when Vint found another gear and altered and blocked an assortment of shots the fourth quarter.
“He seemed to pop out and make plays all over the place,” Van Buren coach Randy Ward said.
Conway coach James Bates didn’t find much wrong in how the Cats played except they couldn’t hit any shots at crunch time. Shot selection might have been questionable at times or the Cats might have shot too quickly, but they got sufficient looks.
“In the fourth quarter, their (the Pointers’) experience showed,” Bates said.
It was a pivotal road victory for the Pointers. They are competing during the regular season in 7A Central, then will drop to 6A for the state playoffs. They are playing for a 7A conference championship and a high seed and ratings points in 6A. The victory at Buzz Bolding Arena was a major step toward both goals.
“Don’t get me started on the 7A/6A thing,” Ward said. “Right now, we’re playing a 7A Central schedule and we hope to have a high seed in 6A.”
The Wampus Cats have more challengers than Van Buren, who they won’t have to worry about come state tournament time.
However, Little Rock Hall and West Memphis, who are competing during the regular season in 6A East, will go into the state playoffs as 7A teams and will challenge seriously for the top seeds. Hall is considered by many to be the top team in the state, any level, this season.
The Wampus Cats are defending their state title against tangible conference rivals and ghosts (Hall and West Memphis of 6A). To get a good seed (and a first-round bye) in the state playoffs, the Cats may have to finish in front of two top 7A teams from either Central or West.
For now, it’s time to reassess and regroup.
There isn’t much to assess. Poor shooting will doom a team most every time.
Former Conway coach Joe Graham, who won his share of games leading the Wampus Cats, patted Bates on the shoulder afterwards and had a quick suggestion.
“You need to get some pliers and cut that wire that was across your basket that kept the ball from going in,” he said
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com)