FOR THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
After a subpar season, the Tarboro Lady Vikings earned a spot in the 2-A NCHSAA state basketball playoffs Saturday. They will travel to Reidsville to play the No. 1 seeded Rams in the Mideast bracket tonight. The Rams are 21-3 from the Mid State Conference.
Tarboro head coach Jamie Willoughby was shocked when she found out her 11-15 Vikings were given the last spot in the playoffs as a wild card team as the No. 16 seed.
Willoughby saw the projected playoff brackets Friday and knew her Vikings may have a chance to get in as the wild card, so she called her team and told them they were going to practice Saturday.
During practice, Willoughby told her team that they were one of 32 teams chosen to play in the 2-A girls playoffs and everyone's record goes back to 0-0.
"We just have to show up and be ready to play," Willoughby said. "We are given the chance to play and I want us to be ready."
Willoughby doesn't know much about the Rams, but what she knows from the past is that they have a lot of speed and are athletic. The Rams won their conference after posting a 10-2 record.
The Vikings have struggled this season with handling the ball. They have turned it over, because of careless mistakes. They are averaging over 25 miscues a game and are coming off of one of their worst losses of the season. They lost in the second round of the conference tournament 72-16 Wednesday night to Kinston, which was given the No. 3 seed in the East bracket.
Willoughby wants her team to look past that loss and head in the right direction going into the playoffs. She has faith in her team and knows that anything is possible in the playoffs.
For the Vikings to be successful, Willoughby said they have to worry about what they do and not the other team. She wants her team to try and cut down on the careless turnovers and not let that be the main reason for them to struggle tonight.
"Our turnovers have led to our opponents scoring easy baskets this season," Willoughby said. "When we turn it over a lot we seem to get frustrated and lack focus on the court."
Willoughby thinks her Vikings can be successful tonight, but they have to play up to their potential and stay focused the entire game and play four full quarters. She said the small things are what is going to matter most in the outcome of the game.
"We have to take care of the ball and box out," Willoughby said. "We have to defend the shooters and get a hand in their faces."
Willoughby believes if her team can follow her keys, then they can play with the Rams and possibly upset them.
Juniors Lisa Jones and Nyasha Savage have to be productive. They are the Vikings leading scorers and Jones is leading the team in rebounds. She is averaging over 10 boards per game. Two more players who have to show up and play are A'Jah Williams and Kharlil Perry. They have to become instrumental on the boards with Jones and have to give the Vikings some scoring out in transition and in their set plays. Quadasha Ruffin needs to be a big presence on the inside and score when she can. She needs to be big so she can draw the Rams attention early on and get Jones some good looks at the basket.
"We are not going to be able to win if just one or two people step up – it will take a team performance," Willoughby said. "It is going to have to be a total team effort."
Willoughby isn't looking for just her five starters to play big, she thinks it has to be the entire team, whether it is bench players or starters.
"Everyone has to be prepared and mentally ready to take care of business," Willoughby said. "It is going to take a team effort to beat a good team like Reidsville."