With the top seed at sub-state locked up and a tough pair of games on the slate next week in the Centennial League race, it would be easy for the Manhattan High girls’ basketball team to overlook Highland Park tonight on the road.
Against an improved Scots team with four wins to their credit, including two in league play, Manhattan head coach Scott Mall wants his team to keep improving regardless of the quality of opponent.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “Highland Park is much better — they beat Topeka West earlier this year, they beat Junction City easily. So that’ll be a tough game. That’s a team I don’t know very much about.”
Mall said the team isn’t letting the pressure of a 16-1 record and a potential league championship weigh it down.
“We just keep stressing where we want to be at the end,” Mall said. “We have to keep building and getting better. We talked about it at halftime (Tuesday night), we can come out and relax or we can say in the second half we can try and get better at some of the things we’ve been struggling at, because we know where we want to be at the end of the season.”
If the Indians can get past Highland Park in their final true road game of the year, the two games against defending league champion Hayden (13-3, 6-3 Centennial) and the regular-season finale against Seaman (15-2, 10-0) next week loom large, but would help Manhattan carry momentum into the postseason.
“Then next week those two home games — it’s good to have them at home, but Hayden and Seaman are two of the best teams in our league,” Mall said. “So we’ll have to really play well to win those.”
On the boys’ side, the Indians will have their hands full against Highland Park (16-1, 10-0). The Scots are undefeated in league play and feature some of the most prolific scorers in the league in Jahmal McMurray (20.4 ppg) and Shaffee Carr (20.2 ppg).
With depth, size and good shooting ability, the Scots have proved to be a tough matchup for everyone they’ve played, with their only loss coming to Lawrence by one point in the championship game of the Topeka Invitational Tournament in January.
“They’re a different animal,” Manhattan co-interim coach Shane Sieben said. “They have great athletes and return four starters from last year. They have a good point guard that will distribute it, they’ve got the McMurray kid that can flat out knock down shots from all over the place, and Shaffee Carr inside — he’s an outstanding player.
“We’ll have our hands full.”
With three tough games left on the schedule, Manhattan (11-6, 6-4) finds itself a game ahead of Lawrence Free State and Topeka High and currently earning the No. 4 seed in the sub-state standings, but 1 1/2 games back from third-seeded Derby (13-5) and two games back from second-seeded Wichita Southeast.
The girls’ game is scheduled to start at 6 p.m., with the boys’ game to follow.