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Dan Weber’s Just Sayin’: Basketball getting interesting this week for colleges, high schools here

Big basketball week coming up for the colleges and high schools here. Not the typical late-January fare. Lots of games that matter. Lots of games for teams on the comeback like the NKU, UK and TMU men while the TMU women did nothing but solidify their No. 1 NAIA ranking with a couple of wins to get to 21.

As far as high schools here, this could well be the week that Kenney Shields’ 35-year-old record as the winningest high school basketball coach in Northern Kentucky history gets equaled and eclipsed by Saint Henry’s Dave Faust by week’s end. Stay tuned.

Dave Faust

• BY OUR MATH, THE RECORD MOMENT FOR FAUST could come Friday although we understand any coach’s hesitancy to look ahead even to the next game much less the one after that but with wins on the road Thursday at Boone County and at home Friday against Bluegrass United out of Lexington would hit 460 at Boone to tie Kenney with the record-breaker potentially coming the next night. Tell him when it happens, has been Faust’s approach. He’s not thinking about it even if everyone else is.

And as much as you’ve heard that “it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” in this case that couldn’t be more true. There is no nicer guy in coaching here – unless of course you count Coach Shields. And then you have the amazing confluence of two really competitive people who have combined the ability to do all the things record-breaking coaches do over all the years but do it in a way that makes everyone around them – and on the other side of them – feel like they really matter, they’re really valued and respected.

NKU’s Sam Vinson (Photo by Dale Dawn)

• NORTHERN MEN BOUNCE BACK at home with a pair of wins last week that got the Norse into an 8-2 tie atop the Horizon League standings with a couple of must-win home games this week in a league schedule Coach Darrin Horn calls “ridiculous” with NKU on the road for seven of its final eight games in February. So time to make the most of it for a Norse team that found out that for the first half, at least, it could do without Marques Warrick’s offense with Trey Robinson and Sam Vinson stepping up to share 21 points the first half of a 74-54 romp over Purdue Fort Wayne Saturday before Warrick came up with 16 in the second half. Horn says that was Northern’s “most complete game” of the season.

NKU will host on Thursday a Green Bay team it beat, 74-53, on the road and then follow that with the big one against a Milwaukee team it’s tied with and that beat NKU 80-75 two weeks ago in a 4 p.m. Saturday Homecoming game.

• BACK IN BUSINESS: After three straight losses, it was good to see the 10th-ranked Thomas More men get back on track at Cumberlands (Ky.) Saturday to get to 15-5 overall and 10-5 in the Mid-South Conference. Reid Jolly, as he almost always does, led the offense with 21 points but he had help from point guard Jacob Jones, who also fired in 21, with guard Casey George getting a double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds), his second of the season, in a 71-57 victory. For Jolly, it was his 10th game this season with 20 or more points. The Saints return home Thursday at 7:30 to host a Lindsey Wilson team they beat 78-72 three weeks ago.

• NO SURPRISE THE WAY THE NO. 1 NAIA SAINTS WOMEN just keep rolling with an 83-64 win at Cumberlands Saturday to stay unbeaten at 21-0 (15-0 MSC) with all the familiar names doing all the familiar things they do. Senior guard Zoie Barth led the way with 17 points and five rebounds but as is almost always the case, she had plenty of help. Kelly Brenner also scored 17 while Emily Simon recorded a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Super-sub Alex Smith had nine points, seven rebounds and three assists while Courtney Hurst also hit for nine points with four assists. TMU will host Lindsey Wilson in a Connor Convocation doubleheader with the men at 5:30 p.m.

• AFTER BOTTOMING OUT IN EMBARRASSING LOSSES to Alabama and South Carolina, UK’s Wildcats seem to have discovered that when you hit bottom hard enough, you better bounce back up. Which is exactly what UK did with big wins over Tennessee and Texas A&M featuring a more tough-minded starting five that includes onetime Covington Catholic Mr. Basketball CJ Fredrick who despite not yet having his shooting touch back, brings some veteran leadership to the Cats. Also give John Calipari credit for shaking things up and changing the Wildcats’ ways. He noted that for the first time in his tenure, he’s having the team stay together at the adjacent Hyatt overnight and doing its game-day shootaround at Rupp Arena for weekend games. Hard to believe this wasn’t standard procedure for UK basketball before but it seems to be a step in the right direction for bringing a 13-6 UK together as it heads to Vanderbilt Tuesday before coming home to host formerly No. 2 Kansas, a team coming off a 23-point home loss to TCU and in almost as serious a nosedive as UK was in two weeks ago.

• SPEAKING OF ‘TOUGH-MINDED,’ how about another veteran college guy from Northern Kentucky, Xavier’s Adam Kunkel out of Ryle High School. The 6-4 senior guard from Hebron has solidified an experienced Xavier team, ranked 13th this week, that has all five starters in double figures (Kunkel is at 10.6 ppg) with his heady passing and ball movement. Big week for the 16-4 Musketeers as they travel for return Big East games at UConn and Creighton, teams Xavier beat at home earlier this season.

• ALL ‘A’ TOURNEY TOPS WEEK’S HIGH SCHOOL GAMES with Newport at Conner Monday night in Hebron matching a young Newport Wildcat team against a veteran Conner Cougar bunch both ready to challenge for a top spot in Ninth Region basketball. CovCath at Cooper is Tuesday’s top game with the rest of the week focusing on Coach Faust’s quest and the state All “A” Tournament at EKU’s McBrayer Arena in Richmond.

Dan Weber

Impressive field awaits Northern Kentucky’s pair of Ninth Region winner Holy Cross and 10th Region winner Bishop Brossart. Four All “A” reps are their region’s No. 1 teams – Owensboro Catholic in the Third, Harlan in the 13th, Hazard in the 14th and Martin County in the 15th. But even though Holy Cross is not the top-ranked team in the Ninth at No. 3, we like the Indians’ chances, with an emphasis on defense and rebounding the basketball around Jacob Meyer, the state’s leading scorer, and 7-foot center Sam Gibson, with a bunch of guys around Gibson who can run.

Holy Cross (13-5) opens Thursday at 5 p.m. against 14-7 Danville out of the 12th Region with Bishop Brossart (12-6), the No. 7 team in the 10th, following at 7 against 17-2 Hazard. Quarterfinals are Friday with the semifinals and finals games Saturday and Sunday.

Dan Weber is a sports reporter/columnist for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. Contact him at dweber3440@aol.com.

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