Riding high at 18-0 for the first time in school history, the Coconut Creek girls’ basketball team has become the talk of the town.
Now if the Cougars can bottle that magic and win an elusive BCAA Big 8 championship, they will finally join Dillard, South Broward and Nova as county blue bloods.
Despite being the lone Class 7A team left standing with an undefeated record, Coconut Creek, which faces South Broward (13-4) in the Big 8 quarterfinals at South Plantation High School at 8 p.m. Thursday, believes it has something to prove.
“We don’t get that respect yet, so the Big 8 title is very important to us,” junior forward Alicia Mardis said. “We want to put that trophy in our school gym. That will prove that all our blood, sweat and tears haven’t gone to waste.”
Nova (14-5), led by Kianni Lurry and sharpshooter Bernadette Devaney, opens defense of its Big 8 title against Miramar at 3:30 with Flanagan facing Class 5A No. 1 Dillard and reigning Broward 8A-5A Player of the year Kayla Wright at 5.
After having their status as the county’s top program challenged with a 62-55 upset loss to American Heritage, the Panthers (17-2) appear to have righted the ship with a thrilling 50-43 overtime victory over Class 4A No. 1 Coral Springs Charter at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Super Showcase.
Cardinal Gibbons faces Douglas at 6:30.
But of all those state contenders chasing a Big 8 title, none will be under the microscope more than Coconut Creek.
For all the regular-season success Coconut Creek has enjoyed under coach Max Ruback (115-34 in six years), the Cougars have bowed out in the first round of the Big 8 Tournament the past five seasons.
Senior guard Andrekia Thompson (12.5 ppg), the first Cougars player to reach 1,000 career points and a McDonald’s All-American Florida Final 16 nominee, said the season-long challenge of keeping an undefeated record intact should help Coconut Creek end that dubious run of early Big 8 exits.
“We’re better mentally and physically prepared,” Thompson said. “All season teams have been shooting darts at us. They want to be the first to beat us. We had some up-and-down games, but we push forward and work hard for 32 minutes.”
Thompson, Mardis, a 5-10 forward averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds per game, and Shamari Josey (14.2 ppg) spearhead a defensive-minded Cougars team that goes 12 deep.
Freshman guard S’Kaydrah Woods has also provided a spark.
With Dillard paying a visit Tuesday and South Broward, another perennial state power, looming Thursday, Ruback will have a better handle on his team’s state hopes by week’s end.
“Playing the best is the only way to go,” Ruback said. “ If you want to be the best, you have to play the best. We don’t fear anybody. This team has something special about it. Something you can’t put into words.”
• Late Saturday — Southernmost MLK Basketball Tournament in Key West — Champagnat 87, Pace 77 - CH: Holanda 8, Chapotin 1, Collie 2, Leadon 23, Domingues 18, Mackey 7, LaBranche 25, Nairm 3. MP: Thomas 4, Norvius 3, Justinien 27, Weite 6, Logan 6, Wilson 3, S. Jean, 3, Ogugua 2, Duarte 17, A. Jean 2. Rebounds: LaBranche 7, Holanda 6, Domingues 5. Assists: Holanda 6, Nairm 5, Leadon 5. CH: 14-4.