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NORMAL - Neither team is in the Big 12 Conference title chase. The sectional seed meeting was earlier this week, so that's not a factor either.

That begs the following question - what's left for the Normal West and Normal Community high school basketball teams have to play for tonight besides Unit 5 bragging rights?


West travels across town to face NCHS in a 7:45 Big 12 contest. The Wildcats come in with a 10-12 overall record and 5-5 mark in the Big 12, tied for fourth. NCHS is 9-15 and 3-7, respectively.

The Wildcats are looking for their first season sweep of their archrival in five years. West handled NCHS 59-35 on Nov. 26 in the Intercity Tournament. More importantly, a victory could put the brakes on a skid that has seen West lose four of its last five games.

"Our decisions with the ball have to be better," said West coach Brian Cupples, who pointed out the Wildcats had 15 turnovers in the first half and five in the second half during a 53-44 loss to Peoria Richwoods Tuesday. "I'm not into moral victories, but if we're on the same page from the beginning of the game we're a solid team."

The Ironmen got a late start to the season because of an extended football playoff run and didn't have much of its current roster during the earlier loss to West. After struggling for more than a month, NCHS has won two of its last three games and played well for three quarters in a 67-61 loss to Bloomington last Friday.

"It's been an uphill battle all year," said NCHS coach Dave Witzig. "We're looking to have a nice February and get ready for March."

Speaking of March, West took the No. 10 seed for the Champaign Centennial Sectional during Wednesday's seed meeting. NCHS was pegged No. 11 in the 19-team field. Each team has four regular-season games left.

Tonight figures to be a low-scoring contest. NCHS is allowing 47.4 points per game, while West is giving up 54.1.

NCHS must find a way to slow down 6-foot-6, 240-pound Cody White. The Wildcats' junior center put up 21 points and seven rebounds against the Ironmen in the first meeting. White is West's leading scorer with 14.4 points per game.

"We know we have to stop their post players," said Witzig. "We hope Marcus King and Dan Frantz can handle (6-5 Matt) Paska and White in the post. They're a problem for everyone. We have to keep them from offensive rebounds and scoring."

Cupples said his players know the Ironmen "will be a whole different team" than in late November. NCHS lost the Class 6A football championship game earlier in the day before playing West. Sheldon Harper and Alex Buck were the only football/basketball players who took the court against West.

"They have three guys in Harper, (Craig) Lutes and (Marcus) King who are very good offensive players," said Cupples. "In high school basketball, or any basketball, you're very productive when you have perimeter and post players. We have to contain those three as best as we can."

Lutes, a senior guard, is NCHS' leading scorer with an 11.5 average, while Harper is next at 9.3.


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