Monroe’s Tim White, center, is one of several players who has stepped up for the Tornadoes, who are unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the Herald Fab 5 Poll.
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WHO: Westover vs. Monroe boys, girls basketball teams
WHAT: City rivalry between Herald Nos. 1 and 2 boys teams
WHEN: 6 p.m. girls game, 7:30 p.m. boys game
ALBANY — It’s Monroe and Westover, and Westover and Monroe.
It has always been a big rivalry and has been about as good as it gets in recent years as both teams have battled for the top spot in the region race and in Southwest Georgia.
It will be no different tonight when Westover travels to Monroe for the biggest showdown of the early season. Monroe’s Tornadoes are unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in The Herald Fab 5 poll, and Westover is 5-1 and ranked No. 2. In the last four years these two teams have split eight region games, and more often than not when they met in the region they were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the Fab 5.
It has always been the biggest rivalry of the basketball season.
“There’s no difference this year,’’ Westover boys coach Dallis Smith said on Thursday. “We’re both undefeated in the region. It’s a big game for both of us. It’s a big game for the fans. This is what basketball is all about in South Georgia. It’s big for the city. Everybody in the city wants to see Westover and Monroe play.’’
The game is being played at Monroe, where it will be standing-room-only. The girls game begins at 6 p.m and the gym will no doubt be full by then.
The two boys teams could meet at the Civic Center next weekend in the U Save It Tournament. They are on opposite sides of the bracket and could meet in the title game. They are also scheduled to play a girls-boys doubleheader on Jan. 12 at the Civic Center.
The two boys games are critical for the entire region because the top-seeded boys team will determine where the Region 1-AAAA Tournament will be held this year.
The girls game has also been significant over the past four years, but the difference tonight is that Monroe’s Lady Tornadoes enter the game as the Herald’s No. 1 team. Four years ago, Monroe’s girls won just four games all year. This year’s team is 7-0 and 5-0 in the Region 1-AAAA race and ranked No. 1 in the Fab 5.
Westover, which has spent most of the last three seasons ranked No. 1 in the Fab 5 girls poll, comes in with a 5-4 record and is only 2-2 in the region race.
The roles have been reversed, and now Monroe is the favorite.
“A lot of people felt like Westover was the team to beat,’’ Monroe coach Cheryl Cheeks said. “We were always the underdogs. But we’ve been working hard to get better. It’s not a feeling of good or bad (about the roles being reversed). It is what it is. We have been working very hard, and it’s our time.’’
Westover coach Lewis Smith feels his young team will get better as the season progresses. Herald Player of the Year DyTiesha Dunson and fellow Herald Super 6er Ieshia Young both graduated, leaving Westover in a rebuilding situation.
“Right now Monroe is better than us,’’ Smith said. “That’s the truth. They have a real good team at Monroe.’’
Still, Smith feels his team can battle Monroe and possibly pull off the upset, and he has faith his young kids will mature. After losing a tough game to Herald No. 2 Crisp County on Tuesday, Smith talked about his team’s future.
“A month from now, we’ll win that game,” Smith said. “When we had a close game last year these girls would look to DyTiesha or Ieshia. But they’re gone now, and they have to learn how to win those close games themselves. I believe in a month we will be the kind of team that will win those close games.’’
An upset isn’t out of the question tonight.
“We know it’s a rivalry game and it’s a region game, and we know we will have to play hard,’’ Cheeks said. “Westover has a good team, and they are always up for us.’’
Monroe may or may not have its two super freshmen, Cekeya Mack and Jomekia Morine. Both have nagging injuries and sat out last Friday’s game against Crisp County. Monroe won without them as Key Key Price led the way with a 19-point night and put the game away by scoring eight of Monroe’s final 10 points in the 53-45 victory.
Cheeks said both Mack and Morine will be a game-time decision.
The Monroe boys had two big wins last week, beating rival Albany High in overtime and hanging on to beat Crisp, 40-39, thanks in part to Hakeem Porter, who came off the bench and had a big night, scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
That’s been the key for Monroe’s fast start. Monroe coach Marquis Davis has several players stepping up. Davis has pointed out all year that his team is more of a team this year, and he’s seeing different players step up.
The Tornadoes’ trademark has always been their tenacious defense, and that was never more evident than when they opened the season with a 28-0 run against city rival Dougherty in the first game of the year.
They lost four starters from last year’s team, but players such as Tim White, Darian Anderson, Keith Bowens, Porter and others have all contributed to the fast start. And of course, Monroe returned Herald Super 6er Jabari McGhee, who averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds a game last year. McGhee poured in 33 points last week against Albany High.
“Monroe always gives you matchup problems,’’ Dallis Smith said. “When you have that type of player like (McGhee), he does a lot for them. You have to come in with the idea of trying to hold him down.’’
Westover has a new look and is more physical inside. C.J. Davis, a 6-foot-5 junior, has already made his presence known. He is coming off a 23-point night in Westover’s 71-62 victory against Crisp on Tuesday. Smith wants his team to do a better job in the paint this year, and he has already seen a change.
The Patriots can burn teams from the perimeter as well. Guard T.J. Cromer led Westover in scoring a year ago and has been a key to this year’s success, along with Kel Miller, who scored 28 against Tift County and scored 24 while grabbing nine rebounds in a 73-53 win against Terrell County on Saturday. Cromer and Miller combined for 46 points and 16 rebounds in the win against the Greenwave. Most of the Monroe boys team was in the crowd watching that game.
The Patriots are 5-1 and 3-0 in the region, and their only loss came to Class AAAAAA Tift County, which is ranked No. 2 in the state in the biggest classification. Monroe lost to Tift in a preseason scrimmage.
Records won’t mean much tonight. These two programs always get sky-high for each other.
“This was a great rivalry back when I was playing at Westover,’’ Dallis Smith said. “It’s been this way for a long time.’’