Even with Class 5A No. 1 Coconut Creek blowing a nine-point halftime lead and losing 54-49 to South Broward (16-5) on Tuesday night, don’t count out the Cougars (19-2) crashing the Dillard-Nova BCAA Big 8 championship party at South Plantation on Saturday.
While the consensus is Dillard and Nova will meet in the Big 8 championship game for the seventh time in the past eight seasons, Creek has the talent and mental toughness to upset the status quo.
“I think this team, as opposed to years past, has talent top to bottom,’’ Coconut Creek seventh-year coach Max Ruback said. “Plus, they have really bought into a defensive mind-set. When you have a team buying into playing defense, hard core, good things are only going to come your way.”
Creek faces a tough quarterfinal matchup against Fort Lauderdale (16-4) and 5-10 freshman standout Keyanna Warthen (16.1 points per game, 5.6 rebounds, 5.2 steals) at 5 p.m. Thursday.
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Four-time defending Class 5A state champion Dillard and star forward Briana Green plays Flanagan at 3:30.
A match-up of top guards unfolds when Class 8A No. 4 Cypress Bay and Scarlett Rocha faces Northeast (12-6) and Shuantavia Dobson. Class 7A No. 2 Nova, led by its one-two punch of Bernadette Devaney and Kiani Lurry, plays resurgent Deerfield Beach (16-6) in the last quarterfinal.
Creek has vaulted to the top of the 5A poll behind a swarming defense and incredible depth, led by leading scorer Destiny Frazier and Delise Williams, a lockdown defender.
Any of seven players, including Jacaira Allen, a fierce offensive rebounder and Tanease Richardson, can lead the Cougars in scoring on any given night, making Creek difficult to game plan for.
The biggest difference in the other talent-laden teams Ruback has brought to the Big 8, however, is the warrior-type mentality this season’s squad has shown.
If road victories over Cypress Bay, Class 5A No. 3 American Heritage and Class 2A No. 6 Zion Lutheran wasn’t enough proof this Creek team is mentally equipped to win it all, then rallying from a 29-18 halftime deficit and defeating Dillard 58-51 at arguably the toughest venue for a visiting team should have won over all skeptics.
Anticipation is already building for a possible Nova-Creek match-up in the semifinals on Friday.
“Nova is historically a great program,’’ Ruback said. “Coach [Jason] Hively does a tremendous job there. I think our girls are going to have a tremendous practice and get ready for Fort Lauderdale. We have a very hungry group of young ladies. I think we have a great opportunity to play Saturday night for the championship, and I will leave it at that.”