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Often during the playoffs, the most anticipated matchup doesn’t materialize because of an upset in the single-elimination playoff format.
Land O’Lakes (22-2) and Gulf (24-4), clearly the top girls basketball teams on the North Suncoast, tip off in a region semifinal at 7 p.m. in what promises to be an epic battle.
The Gators and Bucs have just six losses between them, and neither has lost to a North Suncoast opponent.
“All season, me and my girls have been looking forward to playing them,” Land O’Lakes coach Laurie Tyszko said. “It seems like they get all the hype. We want to see how we stack up. We think we’re pretty good, too.”
Tyszko is in her first season as Gators coach, which is part of the reason the squads didn’t play during the regular season. Gulf coach Mike Quarto finalized his schedule in May. Tyszko didn’t find out she would be coaching varsity basketball until the fall volleyball season, which she also coaches at Land O’Lakes.
Once she got the job, Tyszko tried to add Gulf to the schedule late, but it didn’t work out.
“Next year we’re definitely getting them on the schedule,” she said.
Land O’Lakes’ size will present a difficult challenge to Gulf. The Gators’ Simone Brown and Nicole Woodard are taller than anyone the Bucs can counter with. Brown averages 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Woodard contributes seven points, nine boards and four blocks.
“They’re a lot bigger than us,” Quarto said. “If we can stay with them on the offensive and defensive boards, that would be a big key for us.”
Gulf faced a similar situation in its region quarterfinal win against a Citrus team that had four starters 5 feet 10 or taller. The Bucs were able to neutralize Citrus’ height advantage somewhat and were outrebounded only 27-19. They limited Citrus’ twin towers McKenzie and Morgan Brisson to 12 points combined by playing aggressive team defense.
“We were really physical,” Quarto said. “That’s what we have to do against Land O’Lakes. Any time you make it to this point in the postseason, you have to rebound the ball and play good halfcourt defense to win.”
For Land O’Lakes, the key will be keeping its big three — Shanel Sweet, Brown and Woodard — out of foul trouble. Brown, in particular, has had problems staying on the court at times, fouling out of three games.
“As long as my girls don’t get commit a lot of silly, early fouls, I think it should be a really good, competitive game,” Tyszko said.