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Allderdice, New Castle ready to wage game of the year

| Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, 9:45 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Allderdice's Timothy Jackson (right) and twin brother James (left) make up two-thirds of the backcourt for the Dragons, who are 19-1 and ranked No. 1 in the state in Class AAAA.

For Allderdice, this is the game the Dragons lost on a last-second shot last year.

For New Castle, this is the game that separates the Red Hurricanes from another undefeated regular season.

For Western Pennsylvania basketball fans, this is simply the game of the year.

A sellout crowd will watch New Castle (21-0) play at Allderdice (19-1) at 7:30 p.m. Monday in a nonsection matchup of the WPIAL's No. 1 team in Class AAA and the state's No. 1 Class AAAA team.

This is the second consecutive season these two have met in February. Host New Castle won 60-58 last year on Micah Fulena's 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds remaining.

“It's not a revenge game, obviously. We just want to try to prove that we can beat them,” Allderdice coach Buddy Valinsky said. “They pretty much have the same kids, and we have the same kids.

“As far as game of the season? It's just fun. It's good for the community, good for the school. It's a win-win for everyone. If you lose, you're not knocked out of the playoffs. Even though it's going to be a tough game, both teams will move on.”

Both teams are bound for the postseason: Allderdice to the City League playoffs and New Castle to the WPIAL tourney. So, this game means nothing yet everything to Allderdice and New Castle.

“Because of the magnitude of the game and two good teams, it's certainly more than a scrimmage, more than an exhibition game because of the two teams that are playing,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “It's a great game for Allderdice and New Castle to get ready for the playoffs, I mean, a great game.

“We're really looking forward to going down to Allderdice. I know it's odd for WPIAL schools to go down to the city to play, but it's something that we really wanted to do. We think it should be a great game.”

New Castle is attempting to complete an undefeated regular season for the fourth time in five years despite not having a starter taller than 6-foot.

Blundo is reluctant to compare this team to the group that won three consecutive WPIAL titles and went 31-0 in claiming the 2014 PIAA Class AAAA title.

“We're not a dominant team. I don't know that we're what the record says we are,” Blundo said. “But they're a team that has had a great deal of success, and I'm as proud of them as any team I've ever coached.”

The Red Hurricanes, led by brothers Marcus and Marquel Hooker, rely upon 3-point shooting and a suffocating defense.

“They play harder than any team I've seen in the last 10 years,” Valinsky said. “Loose balls, there's not one person, there's five people on it. They are swarming.”

Valinsky expects New Castle to neutralize the Dragons' size edge with full-court pressure, even though Allderdice has a talented backcourt led by Ramon Creighton and twins James and Timothy Jackson.

“The game will not be at a slow pace, that's for sure,” Valinsky said. “I anticipate the game to be played above the rim, which we like to do.”

Allderdice owns lopsided victories over ranked WPIAL foes North Hills (87-47), Beaver Falls (81-62) and Central Catholic (78-34) but is just looking for a win.

“We're going to go on the road and play a great team that's well-coached and, regardless of the outcome of the game, it's going to make us better,” Blundo said. “I think it will make Allderdice better, too.”

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Reviewstaff writer. Reach himat kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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