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Lovejoy, Luella clash in big Region 2-AAAAAA contest

Lovejoy coach Rick Francis says he is still looking for some areas of improvement from his team, but is happy with their undefeated region record. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

Lovejoy coach Rick Francis says he is still looking for some areas of improvement from his team, but is happy with their undefeated region record. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

HAMPTON — At the end of the Region 2-AAAAAA tournament last season, Lovejoy and Luella headed in different directions.

Lovejoy, which had made the state tournament the last three seasons, was headed home after a loss to Druid Hills in the opening round. Meanwhile, Luella’s win over Alcovy clinched the program’s first state tournament berth.

Tonight, the two teams meet in an important region contest that will decide sole possession of first place.

“It is still a regular season game, but it is against two undefeated teams in the region,” Lovejoy coach Rick Francis said. “It is a little pressure because of what is at stake. You just have to execute on both ends of the floor, and you will be okay. It all boils down to execution.”

Lovejoy is 9-2 overall and 4-0 in the region following a three-game winning streak. Luella enters the 7:30 p.m. contest at Lovejoy with a 6-7 overall mark and 3-0 in the region.

“Right now, this game is very big knowing that we’re the top two teams in the region,” Luella forward TeMarcus Blanton said. “Coming out with a win would make a big statement for us and show us how good we are.”

Although his team is at the top of the region, Francis says Lovejoy has some improvements to make before next month’s region tournament. Over the recent Christmas break, Lovejoy planed in tournaments in Albany and at Drew.

“We still have a long way to go, but I’m satisfied with our record at this point in the season,” Francis said. “We will fine-tune what we need to fine-tune as we focus on getting ready for the region and hopefully the state tournament. Once you get into state, you want to do as much damage as you can do.”

The Wildcats are averaging 55.7 points per game and are led by three players in double figures. Marlon Curington leads the team with a 12.8 average while DeAndre Mathis is averaging 12.7 points and Darrius Bridges averages 9.8 points per game.

“I would like to see us execute on the offensive end, and run more offensive sets,” Francis said. “Our defense needs to focus more on allowing our opponents fewer points.”

Luella might be the tallest if not most talented team the Wildcats have faced so far this season. The Lions are led by TeMarcus Blanton, who has signed with South Carolina. Center Doral Moore, who stands 7 feet tall, has drawn the interest of some of the top programs in the country.

“I think we’re improving,” Blanton said. “Coming into the season, guards were our biggest concern. Now everyone has just stepped up and improved. To be honest, I don’t know how Lovejoy is going to defend us.

“They probably won’t key their defense on me and Doral like other teams have. Most teams key on Doral and he’s been smart enough not to force things. We’re not really concerned about what defense they play.”