|Bluebirds Handle Vaunted Rowan County 2-3 Zone|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands junior forward Oliver Harris makes a pass in a recent game.|
The Rowan County Vikings of the 16th Region have run a 2-2-1 full-court press and a high, aggressive 2-3 zone defense for years since Head Coach Shawn Thacker came over from Somerset in 2008.
It has bothered a number of teams over the years. But it did not both the Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball team (16-4 overall) Friday. Highlands hit the running clock late in the third quarter in an 86-54 victory in Morehead.
"We really handled that early and then they had to come out of the zone and we were able to get downhill, penetrate and keep finding the shooters," said Kevin Listerman, Highlands Head Coach. "In addition to us shooting it well, our pressure and our pace really made them uncomfortable and got them out of their game. We dictated from the start the tempo and the pace of play."
Thacker has been a head coach for 22 years total for the Vikings (7-3) and the Briar Jumpers. He guided Somerset to three All "A" State runner-up finishes in 2001, 2002 and 2005 and a 48th District championship in 2002. Thacker has coached Rowan County to nine 61st District championships and two 16th Region crowns. Rowan County finished state runner-up to Christian County and 2011 and lost to Pulaski Southwestern in the 2012 state quarterfinals.
If teams do not beat the pressure for transition scores, teams can attack the 2-3 a number of ways. Common ways are shooting from the wing or the corner if not passing to a post or wing near the free-throw line and attacking inside. Highlands led 29-4 after the first quarter.
The Bluebirds made 33-of-54 shots for 61 percent including 16-of-27 from three-point range for 59 percent and all four free throws. Highlands also had 31 rebounds, 13 fouls, 26 assists, eight steals, 10 turnovers and a blocked shot.
"We are doing a great job of making the extra pass," Listerman said. "We're playing with a lot of confidence and the ball is moving. We've really grown as a team and seem to have found a rhythm."
Senior point guard Sam Vinson led the way with 21 points to go with 16 rebounds and 10 assists for his third triple-double this week. But sophomore guard Will Herald made four three-pointers on his way to 18 points and senior forward Luke Muller made five on his way to 15 points. Junior guard Zach Barth made two on his way to 12 points to go with six steals.
"With the zone, all we have to do is open up the court," Herald said. "As long as we hit shots, it's very tough to guard us. It showed (Friday) if we hit our shots, we're very tough to beat."
Rowan County has missed a number of games this year as a result of Coronavirus 2019 precautions. Their leading scorers coming into the game were senior forward/guard Mason Moore, an Eastern Kentucky baseball commit as a pitcher, and junior forward Robert Todd averaging 21.1 and 14.2 points per game along with junior forward/guard Chase Alerman at 10 points even.
Alderman scored 12. But Highlands held Moore and Todd to eight points each. Senior forward/guard Nathan Goodpaster also scored 12.
Rowan County made 22-of-51 shots for 43 percent including 4-of-14 from three-point range for 29 percent and 6-of-10 free throws for 60 percent. The Vikings also had 21 rebounds, eight fouls, 15 assists, 12 turnovers, six steals and two blocked shots.
Highlands plays at Covington Holy Cross on Monday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.