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February 19, 2013

NORTHWEST REGIONAL BASKETBALL TOURNEY GIRLS PREVIEW: Classes 2A, 5A ready to jumpstart semis

CULLMAN — Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my — and Dragons and Jaguars and Pirates, too. The girls side of the bracket at the Northwest Regional Tournament will have it all, including two top-ranked teams in their respective classifications, two No. 2’s and a swarm of other top-10 squads.

Twenty-four schools will take the court at Wallace State’s Tom Drake Coliseum this week, but only six will leave with a coveted spot at the state tournament in Birmingham.

The annual event will begin today with 5A and 2A, followed by 6A and 1A on Wednesday. Classes 3A and 4A will wrap up the semifinal play on Thursday, with regional championship games scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

Here’s a quick glance at the field:

Class 6A

%No. 3 Hoover (24-4) vs. No. 10 Austin (23-7), Wednesday at 9 a.m.

% No. 1 Sparkman (32-0) vs. Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa, Wednesday at noon

% Hoover: The Buccaneers have yet to be tested in the playoffs, but that could change in a hurry with the Tigers filling out a top-10 matchup. Marqu'es Webb, touting a 14-point average per game, has Hoover in position for a second straight title and third in four years.

% Austin: Tyra Johnson shook off a hard foul and sank the go-ahead free throw to help the Black Bears squeak by No. 5 Bob Jones 44-43 in overtime of a fierce sub-regional contest. The freshman, as well as senior guards Maegan Hamilton and Takisha Jordan, were critical in Austin advancing to the Northwest Regional for the first time in seven years.

% Sparkman: The Senators' key cog, 6-foot-2 junior Alexis Jennings, kept her squad's undefeated streak alive with 14- and 27-point outbursts in postseason victories over Bob Jones and James Clemens. Sparkman, playing at the Tom Drake Coliseum for a 10th consecutive year, is seeking its first regional title since 2007.

% Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa: Despite scoring just four points in the fourth quarter in a sub-regional battle with Minor, the Patriots held on for a 43-39 win, one game after a six-point triumph versus Northridge.Ambrica Johnson, who heads Hillcrest's offense, is fresh off a 27-point performance.

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