Mission: (not) Impossible

No one has to remind coach Shawn Sanders what the Center Grove girls basketball team is up against at the regional.

He knows Bedford-North Lawrence is unbeaten. He knows it is a two-time defending state champion. He knows it has lost only one game the past three seasons.

And he knows the Stars feature three NCAA Division I recruits in the starting lineup.

But Sanders also knows they aren’t invincible.

He knows because Center Grove has played Bedford-North Lawrence (25-0) twice in the past six months. In those meetings, the Trojans (20-6) charted as much information about the Stars’ weaknesses as their strengths.

Sanders expects to put the knowledge to good use Saturday when unranked Center Grove plays No. 1 Bedford-Lawrence in a regional semifinal on the Stars’ home floor — the same floor where the Trojans lost 46-33 on Dec. 13.

Although the 33 points were a season-low for the Trojans, they weren’t disheartened by the loss.

“We added them to the (regular-season) schedule with the hopes that we would get a chance to beat them in the regional,” said Sanders, whose team also played Bedford during a summer tournament. “We’ve watched a lot of film.

“We’ve seen some things that worked for us, and we’ve seen some things that we need to work on. We know that they’re not perfect.”

Perhaps not. But the Stars have a perfect record and are a combined 80-1 the past three seasons. They’ve won two straight Class 4A state titles and have players who were starters on both championship teams.

Those players are seniors Jenna Allen, Dominique McBryde and Alexa Bailey. All three are Division I recruits. Allen and McBryde are Miss Basketball candidates. And Bailey is the best floor leader Sanders has seen during his six seasons at Center Grove.

Allen has signed with Michigan State. McBryde is going to Purdue. And Bailey, the daughter for former Indiana University star Damon Bailey, is going to Butler, where her dad is an assistant coach.

“Those three are obviously the core of their group,” Sanders said. “They’re veterans. They’ve played under the lights, under the stress of the pressure of it. It’s a hard matchup physically, and it’s a hard matchup, experience-wise.”

But it is not an impossible matchup, the Trojans insist, because they know how to prepare for it — and because they are playing their best basketball of the season heading in.

Center Grove has won 10 of its past 12 games, including a confidence-boosting sectional semifinal win against nemesis Franklin Central, and vanquished New Palestine 58-33 in the sectional championship game.

“We’re taking momentum in,” said senior Regan Wentland, and Indiana State recruit who had a team-high 17 points against New Palestine. “These last few games we’ve really come together as a team, and everyone’s been gelling.

“I think we’re playing well right now.”

So does Sanders.

“We’re playing as well and as confident as we have all season,” he said. “As far as quality of opponents and how we’re playing against quality opponents, I think right now we’re playing our best basketball. The grinder against Franklin Central, that was obviously a confidence-builder for us, and I think it showed (against New Palestine).

“We came out (in the sectional final) and did as well as I’ve seen us play. We executed some things extremely well.”

The challenge now is to execute the same way, only better, against the state’s No. 1 team. The winner advances to Saturday night’s championship game against the winner of the Columbus North/Evansville Central semifinal.

Wentland expects to the Trojans two play games on Saturday — and beyond.

“We know what (Bedford’s) strengths are. We know what they’re weaknesses are,” she said. “I think we’re going to use that to our advantage. I don’t think we’re content with winning the sectional.

“It was a huge accomplishment, but I think we’re definitely hungry for a regional. We definitely see that in our future.”

Sanders agrees, so long as the Trojans find the offensive traction that eluded them in the regular-season showdown at Bedford. An efficient defensive effort wasn’t nearly enough to carry the day on a day they couldn’t find the basket.

They’ll have to find it early and often this time.

“We played well defensively, but offensively we left a lot of points out there,” Sanders said. “We missed some easy shots. We’re at least eight or 10 points better on offense, and we think we can take away eight or 10 points of theirs, which then gives us the win if we go out there (and play well).

“(Bedford) is going to adjust, too. It depends on who can adjust the best, and then go out and execute.”

If you go

What: IHSAA Class 4A girls basketball regional

Where: Bedford-North Lawrence High School

When: Saturday

Games: 10:30 a.m., Columbus North (24-1) vs. Evansville Central (22-3); 12:30 p.m., Center Grove (20-6) vs. Bedford-North Lawrence (25-0); 8 p.m., championship

Admission: $7 single session, $10 both sessions

Rick Morwick is sports editor of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rmorwick@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.