Mercer coach Chris Souder said the fact this game comes in the semifinal round won't lessen the quality of play in the game.
"I don't think they'll need much reason to be intense," Souder said. "The Wayne kids are going to play hard regardless of who they play, our kids are going to play hard regardless of who they play. It should be a great game. It will be a difficult, typical last-couple-of-years Mercer-Wayne battle."
Last year, Mercer won its first-ever regional title with a 67-50 victory over Wayne. That avenged a 54-52 Wayne win in the 2002 tournament.
Wayne coach Tim Pyles said Mercer is even better this year.
"When you put Erica Lee inside, they've got a good inside-outside game that's pretty hard to handle," Pyles said. "I think they're a whole lot better defensively, quicker, than they were last year."
Mercer's defense is nearly identical to last year in points per game given up (53.38 this year to 53.14 last year). Wayne, meanwhile, is giving up only 41.82 points a game. That comes from Wayne's plodding, work the ball inside, slow-tempo style of play.
"They're the same old Wayne County: big, strong and physical," Souder said. "They don't want the tempo, they want to get in a half-court game. Tim does a great job, and those kids do exactly what he tells them to do."
Both teams employ a pressure defense, but for different reasons. Mercer's is to harrass and force turnovers, while Souder said Wayne uses its defense to slow the tempo of the game.
"The key is not falling into their style of play," Souder said. "They do a great job in their press, and it's not mainly for steals, but it's to slow you down."
"They beat you the first 15 feet of the floor on the defensive end," Pyles said of Mercer. "You've got to be able to withstand that initial pressure."
The other half of the bracket features South Laurel, the only regional team in two years to beat Mercer, and Casey County, which is finally healthy.
South Laurel hasn't lost a regional game this year.
"They're so tall and lean and have long arms that it's really hard to penetrate or get anything inside," Casey coach Randy Salyers said. "It's going to be a tough situation for us. We're going to have to hit some shots to open things up on the inside.
"They have some tall guards and they're a hard team to press because they'll throw over top of it."
For her part, South Laurel coach Konnie Snyder has been impressed by Casey as well.
"I've only seen them a couple of times, and every time they play they get better," Snyder said. "I'm not sure if they're at their peak yet or not, but they're good enough to be in the semifinals of the region."
Snyder said the inside combination of Meagan Murphy and Beth Patterson combined with the guard play of Tabitha Yaden, Lindsay Wilson, Kelli Warner and Lindsey Hoskins make the Rebels a dangerous opponent.
"They have a lot of experience," Snyder said. "They've been to the regional tournament before and they're a senior-led team. They're going to be well-prepared, they're well-coached and I expect a very good game."
None of the coaches are surprised at the final four teams. Salyers said the four teams in the finals are the ones he expected to be there.
But Pyles said until someone takes the title from Mercer, the Scotties are the team to beat.
"They've got another year under their belts, and that makes them a heavy favorite," Pyles said. "It's going to take a flawless game for anybody to beat them. They've carried the crown well and they have the opportunity to get it back."|None|***