Keith boys have tough challenge in Birmingham

Published 9:23 pm Saturday, February 27, 2016

To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.

That’s the mindset Keith is taking into its class 1A state semifinal game Monday against defending state champion Sacred Heart. The Cardinals have been impressive all year, but lately they appear to be playing some of their best basketball of the season.

Sacred Heart has been ranked No. 1 in the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s rankings all season and has won its last three games by an average of 39.6 points.

“Defensively, if we [focus] in, I think we can play with anybody in the country,” said Keith coach Tommy Tisdale.

The Bears have relied on great defensive effort all season and it’s really paid off. Keith held Isabella to nine points in a win and held Selma to only 24 points when the Saints went to Orrville.

Tisdale knows it’s going to take another effort like those two for the Bears to play for a state championship Thursday.

“Everybody has bought in,” Tisdale said.

Keith defeated Cornerstone School 73-47 in the Central Regional Final to qualify for its first trip to Birmingham since 2011. The Bears’ only boys basketball championship came in 1998.

The Cardinals defeated Winterboro 96-54 to win the Northeast Championship. Diante Wood had 43 points and 22 rebounds to lead the way for Sacred Heart in the game, but the Cardinals are balanced. Kevion Nolan scored 37 points against Spring Garden in the Northeast semifinals and D.J. Heath also was responsible for 25 points in that game.

That doesn’t even include Kavarri Ross, who was the MVP of last season’s championship tournament, and didn’t score in double figures in Sacred Heart’s last two games.

Ross led Sacred Heart past Sunshine 70-65 in last year’s 1A championship game.

Tisdale said Sacred Heart is impressive, but the Bears aren’t reinventing the wheel for Monday’s game. He plans for the Bears to play tough-nosed Keith basketball and see where it gets them at the end of the game.

“You leave with the lady that brought you to the dance, and we are going to the dance with the same moves that got us to the dance,” Tisdale said.

The game will tip at 1:30 p.m. Monday at the BJCC in Birmingham.