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Westover against South Atlanta: All about the rematch

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

COLUMBUS -- South Atlanta's Hornets have heard the chants all year in road games against good teams with loud fans: "Where is Fav-ors?!? Where is Fav-ors?!?'

Derrick Favors is gone, off to Georgia Tech to continue his legacy, and no one should be happier than Westover's Patriots, who meet the Favors-less Hornets at 8:30 tonight in the Elite Eight of the GHSA Class AAA playoffs at Columbus State.

"Favors is in college now, and hopefully we can come up with a game plan to beat them,'' said Westover coach Dallis Smith, whose team is ranked fifth in the state.

You don't have to remind anyone at Westover that Favors, the USA Today National Player of the Year, beat them up in last year's AAA title game. Favors scored 38 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, blocked eight shots and handed out four assists in South Atlanta's 81-62 rout.

That still stings at Westover, where four of this year's five starters are back from that state title loss. Only Anthony Ball, who was out last season with an ACL injury, did not play in the state title game.

"The kids are ready. They're fired up to get the opportunity to play them again,'' said Smith, who used a rotation of two sets of starters last year.

A Final Four berth is on the line tonight for two teams that have changed dramatically. Westover lost point guard Terrance Noel, who was The Herald's Willie Boston Player of the Year in Southwest Georgia and seniors Greg Green, Rashad Greene, Kenji Breedlove and Brandon Benton.

South Atlanta lost four starters, including Favors, and when the season started no one in Atlanta thought much of the Hornets' chances of winning another state title.

They do now. The Hornets (28-2) have been ranked No. 1 in the state this season and began the state tournament run ranked second behind unbeaten LaGrange, which faces Dougherty at 5:30 p.m. tonight at Columbus State. "I didn't make the bracket,'' Smith said. "If you're going to get to where you want to be (state title), you're going to have to face the best. We're playing them now.''

That's fine with the Westover kids.

"We would be motivated no matter who we were playing. We would have the fire to play hard,'' said senior forward Onochie Ochie, who played with the Noel group last season. "Playing them brings back memories of the state title game. It hurt, but they were a great team, and the better team won that night.''

Ochie and Chris Wheeler, a 6-foot-5 senior who played last season, will have the biggest test of the night, trying to stop South Atlanta's front, which has been labeled by the Atlanta Journal Constitution as the best in Georgia. Favors is gone, but Nick Jacobs, a 6-9 junior, is already being called the next big thing in Atlanta. He's averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds a game, and he's joined inside by 6-7 Dominique McCoy and 6-6 Rashad Bell. The Hornets also have sophomore James Arnold, who is a deadly 3-point shooter.

"It will be different because you don't have the top player in Derrick Favors, but they have (Jacobs) and he can do a lot of things,'' Smith said. "We've got to try to minimize what he does and keep him off the glass. They're big, and they're a good team. They're used to winning, and some of the guys who came off the bench for them (in the title game) are starting now.

"It will be different, but they are going to be up for us,'' added Smith. "They're looking forward to playing us.''

Both teams have changed from last year, and both have grown this year.

"We were trying to find our identity this year,'' Smith said. "By the middle of the year we didn't have it."

They have it now -- a fast-paced team that can run and gun -- especially Malcolm Sapp, who is averaging more than 20 points in big games this season. He scored a combined 47 in Westover's two victories over Monroe, including 26 in the Region 1-AAA final, and is coming off a 21-point night against Kendrick.

Shevren Keaton and Ball may be the keys tonight, because the two quick ball-handlers set the pace for everything Westover does, and Wheeler and Ochie know how to run the floor.

"That was a great team we had last year, and this year is a different kind of team,'' Ochie said. "I'm glad we're getting to play them. I like playing great teams. It brings out the best in all of us.''