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River Valley Report: Van Buren taking aim at Vilonia

by Leland Barclay | January 21, 2022 at 7:00 a.m.

VAN BUREN -- It's showtime at Clair Bates Arena today with 5A-West leader Vilonia and one of the top players in the conference visiting Van Buren.

"Big boy is coming to town," Van Buren Coach Brad Autry said. "Here we go."

Autry is referring to Vilonia's 6-6 Austin Myers, who had a phenomenal football season leading the Eagles and now is in the midst of a fantastic basketball season. Myers was the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Player of the Week with 32 points and 8 rebounds in a 56-36 win over Mountain Home and 23 points in a 61-39 win over Greenwood last week.

"We'll throw it all out there and see what we've got," Autry said. "We won on the road and picked up a little confidence. They play a little bit differently, and we'll have to adjust to that. I don't think our guys are scared. I tell them don't ever play on your heels, play on your toes. If you make a mistake, make an aggressive mistake."

The Pointers had a taste of one big man in the conference on Tuesday against Alma's 6-7 Hunter McAlister, which had the game plan from the start of going inside early and often to their senior leader.

Autry expects more of the same tonight in the way Vilonia uses Myers.

"Without question," Autry said. "We talked about how we have to limit his touches, have to take away deep catches. We wanted to drop off some guys, but to their credit some guys that don't normally take a lot of shots or make a lot of shots did just that. We did a pretty good job defensively. We have to get better in some sports. We let some guys go to their strengths too often. We didn't take away their strengths. We have to correct that."

Juniors Connor Myers and Tobey Sayaxamphou performed admirably defensively in trying to guard McAlister.

McAlister scored all six of Alma's points in the first quarter with consecutive baskets and two free throws. McAlister finished with 10 points with Van Buren holding him to just four field goals in nine attempts.

Van Buren travels to Siloam Springs on Tuesday.


Whirlwind week

The Lady Bears left Fort Smith early Wednesday afternoon in a school bus with temperatures in the 50s headed to Little Rock.

They returned late that night in freezing temperatures and on a Mount St. Mary school van.

"We came out to the bus and it wouldn't start," Lady Bears Coach Rickey Smith said. "We had to shuffle things around and rode in their minivan. They allowed us to borrow it. Our bus is still sitting beside the gym at Mount St. Mary."

The game start time was at least moved up to 5 p.m. and the team did arrive back at Northside about 10.

"We're very appreciative to Mount St. Mary for the help," Smith said. "Both Little Rock Central and North Little Rock athletic directors were trying to get a mechanic there to possibly fix our bus or get us another one. But we knew that would be a while. We only played varsity so we didn't have a lot of our players down there."

Northside won, 61-26, in a game postponed since last week to stay undefeated at 16-0 overall and now the Lady Bears now travel back to central Arkansas to play at North Little Rock today in a key game in the 6A-Central.

"We needed that game before we play North Little Rock," Smith said. "It was critical. That's why we went on a Wednesday night."

North Little Rock, ranked No. 2 in the state, lost to No. 1 Conway on Tuesday, 76-63, also at Charging Wildcat Arena.

While the challenge is big for the Lady Bears, it's even bigger for the Grizzlies, who take on the state's No. 1 boys team tonight.

The nationally ranked Charging Wildcats remained undefeated in the 6A-Central with a 78-52 win over Conway on Tuesday.

University of Arkansas signee Nick Smith had 30 points, 8 assists and 3 steals while Oregon signee Kel'el Ware had 21 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.

Both players were recently recognized as top 20 players in the nation, according to ESPN.


Airedales just want to play

The Airedales played just their second game of the new year on Tuesday against Van Buren.

"It's been hard for us," Alma Coach Dominic Lincoln said. "We had a tournament cancelled in Texas, which gave us a week off. Then we played a couple of games and had our Christmas break. Then we played a couple of games, and covid happened. We've been up and down as far as having the team together."

Alma lost to Jacksonville in the finals of the Sheridan Tournament right before New Year's Eve then lost at highly touted Vilonia on Jan. 7.

A few postponements later, and Alma lost to Van Buren 61-46 on Tuesday.

"We have to control what we can control," Lincoln said. "We have to practice well and play better."

Alma fell behind early but battled back within 30-26 early in the third quarter with Matthew Schlegel and Branson Brogan hitting three-point shots to keep the Airedales close.

Lincoln, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Tuesday, took over for the winningest boys basketball coach in school history, Stan Flenor, in May and would love to get into the usual Tuesday-Friday conference routine.

"Obviously, a routine would help us," Lincoln said. "Everybody is more comfortable in a routine. We're not in that right now. We can't control it, and we're not the only ones going through that. I just know we have Greenbrier Friday."

Alma returns home today to host Greenbrier and then travels to Greenwood for Rivalry Tuesday.


Also big week

It's also a big week for Lamar, which plays three games this week.

The Lady Warriors, ranked No. 2 in Class 3A, improved to 17-1 overall and 7-0 in the 3A-5 with a 59-32 win over Dover on Tuesday.

Lamar played at Atkins on Thursday and at Mayflower on Saturday, but the three-game week is not concerning.

"We had a game last week that we had to make up," Lady Warriors Coach Brandon Schluterman said. "We're ready to play. Let's go. We don't want to practice anyway."

Lamar's freshman guard Kori Sanders was selected the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Player of the Week after scoring 19 points in a 57-34 win over Baptist Prep on Friday. She had 13 of her 19 points in a 31-point third quarter, but the Lady Warriors have been balanced all season.

"We have four kids that are averaging double figures, and our fifth is a great distributor and worker who is kind of the glue to everything," Schluterman said. "When you've got all of them that can score, it's hard to guard. That's been our approach."

Senior Shae Taylor and junior Morgan Cochran each had a pair of treys in the big third quarter, and junior Karley Williams is a force inside as an almost automatic double-double along with junior Bailey Cowell.

"When we're making our outside shots, that's the key," Schluterman said. "Now, they have to come get us, and we can go by you. Then we are big enough and strong enough and work hard enough inside that we can get buckets inside."

Lamar was chosen last week to host the Class 3A Region 3 Tournament as announced by the Arkansas Activities Association. 


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