The Northridge girls basketball team has not been phased by anything this season.
Don’t expect that to change come Saturday despite a big challenge sitting squarely in front of the Raiders.
No. 7 Northridge will face one of the nation’s top-rated players in just the program’s second-ever trip to the regional round of the state tournament.
The Raiders, who sport a program-best 26-1 mark, clash with Dana Evans and her Gary West team in the opening game of the Class 4-A LaPorte Regional at 11 a.m. (EST). The second semifinal pits host LaPorte (15-10) versus Merrillville (20-5). The winners return to LP Saturday night to play for the regional crown and a berth in the semistate on Feb. 18 at either Crown Point or Logansport. Semistate assignments will be made by the IHSAA on Sunday following regional play on Saturday.
Northridge enters regional play red-hot after winning the Goshen Sectional crown. The Raiders have won 14 straight since their lone loss, a 50-44 home setback to Penn way back on Dec. 13. Northridge beat the defending state champion Kingsmen 48-39 in the sectional finale after topping Warsaw 54-27 in the semifinals and Concord 53-23 in a first-round game.
The Raiders know a thing or two about Evans.
The star Gary West guard scored 35 points as a freshman back in 2014 when her team topped Northridge 72-56 in a regional semifinal game. Evans, now a 5-7 senior, averages 36.5 points-per-game. The Louisville recruit, who is ranked as the No. 7 senior nationally by ESPN, also averages 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 4.8 steals per game. Evans scored 56 points this season in a 101-86 win over Hammond Morton and had 53 points in a 86-61 win over Lowell.
Coach Doug Springer’s Northridge team counts on teamwork, strong defense and offensive balance. The Raiders are allowing just 37 points-per-game. Gary West averages 69 ppg. and allows 54.
The Raiders are led by Brooke McKinley. The junior guard averages 14 ppg. Also key for Northridge are senior Marci Miller, who averages 11 points and five rebounds per game, along with senior Kelsey Bontrager (9.6) and sophomore Morgan Litwiller (8.5, 5.3).
Gary West, which sports at 19-6 mark, is coached by Rodney Fisher. Fisher is second all-time in coaching wins for girls basketball in state history. He is 656-201 in his 40th year overall, including a 537-144 mark in his 33rd season at Gary West. Donna Cheatham of Scottsburg has 687 wins in this her 42nd year to sit at No. 1.
The LaPorte Regional winner will face the winner of the Kokomo Regional in the semistate round.
South Bend St. Joseph will compete in the Class 3-A Rensselaer Regional Saturday. The Indians, who are led by senior Daly Sullivan, face Andrean at noon in the second semifinal game. St. Joe is 22-2 and coached by Sydney Smallbone, who led the Indians to a state title during her prep career and then played for Pat Summit at Tennessee.
The other semifinal matchup at Rensselaer has Northwestern versus Lighthouse Prep Academy.
Argos, the Class 1-A state runner-up a year ago, faces Michigan City Marquette in the second game of the Caston Regional. The Dragons are led by star guard Courtney Dunlap and are coached by Gary Teel, the former girls basketball coach at Tippecanoe Valley. Dunlap averages 22.7 points-per-game for the Dragons.
The regional opener at Caston has Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian taking on North White.