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Match up favors WMA boys in game against Bradford

| Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Whether it is the NCAA tournament you are talking about or a PIAA Class AAA second-round state high school playoff game, it is all about the matchups.

The difference between a good matchup and a bad one usually indicates which team will continue to chase a championship and which team will begin the process of collecting uniforms.

West Mifflin Area boys basketball coach Lance Maha used to be a firm believer of the matchup theory.

Nowadays, well ...

Last week in a first-round state playoff game against Oliver, West Mifflin didn't match up well at all with the Bears, but still advanced with relative ease to today's second-round game at Clarion University's Tippin Gymnasium.

Awaiting the Titans is yet another matchup nightmare. Today's matchup is in West Mifflin's favor as they oppose the absolute polar opposite of Oliver in District 9 champion Bradford.

"Oliver gets out and gets after you and gives you space to play down the other end when you break the press," Maha said. "Bradford is a solid, halfcourt, man-defensive team. When you are in the postseason, you have to adjust styles from game to game every couple of days when you play. Our kids have seen enough types of teams this year that we will be prepared for whatever they throw at us."

But make no mistake about it, the matchups this time around are certainly in West Mifflin's favor.

Despite not losing since the day after Christmas (which spans 18 games in which 14 of those victories were by double figures) and winning eight of the last 10 District 9 titles including a 56-28 drubbing of Clearfield a couple weeks back, the small, guard-oriented Bradford (22-2) team doesn't look too intimidating on paper when it comes to the Titans.

The Owls have only one player over 6 feet tall and only two who average more than 10 points per game.

West Mifflin (15-8) counters with 6-2 Lonzell Coles, 6-4 C.J. Hester and 6-5 Leondrae Cobbs in the paint. Hester is one of the leading scorers in the WPIAL, averaging 22.5 ppg.

Can you say matchup nightmare?

Well, Maha is not about to go down that road.

"All their guys can handle the ball and all their guys can shoot the ball," Maha said. "For us, teams with smaller guys are tougher of a matchup for us. We have decent size with Cobbs, Hester and (Lonzell) Coles and sometimes it is difficult to find a guy for each one of them to guard."

Bradford is led by guard David "Pug" Fuhrman. Son of head coach Dave Fuhrman, the 5-11 senior leads the team with a 16.3 ppg average.

"He is a really good shooter," Maha said. "They run a lot of stuff for him and he really understands how to play. You can tell that he is the coach's son. He is going to be a tough matchup for us."

Rounding out Bradford's starting lineup are 5-10 senior guard Matt White (4.9 ppg), 5-11 senior guard Michael White (6 ppg), 6-2 senior forward Ryan Mackey (11 ppg) and 6-0 senior forward Evan Kline (10 ppg).

Coming off the bench for the Owls are 6-1 senior guard Jimmy Grove, 6-0 junior forward Cody Faucher and 5-9 sophomore Cody Holzworth.

"They are a very good team," Maha said. "We saw the tape of them against Trinity and against the D-9 championship. What they are able to do to you is spread you out on the offensive end and they can shoot."

West Mifflin didn't do a particularly good job of defending the perimeter against Oliver. Maha knows that Bradford will test his team with their long-range shooting.

"The one thing we didn't do Friday was we didn't guard the 3-point line well," Maha said. "We are going to need to do a better job of that. Our perimeter shooting is going to be important."

Against Oliver, Charles Thompson-Lawson hit five 3-pointers and the Titans shot 11-of-17 from behind the arc.

A win will move the Titans, who were an 11 seed in the WPIAL playoffs, to the Western Region semifinals.

"We are pleased but we by no stretch of the imagination think we can't compete with the teams that are left," Maha said. "The kids are confident. We have been in some wars. We have talked about it extensively with the kids as the season went on. We are battle-tested."

NOTES: Bradford's only losses were early in the season to Warren, 71-49, and then to Olean (N.Y.) 64-52 ... Fuhrman has a 340-170 record in 20 years. ... The Owls beat Trinity, 45-43, on a last-second shot in a first-round game. ... All four WPIAL Section 4-AAA teams are still alive in the state playoffs (Chartiers Valley, Montour, West Allegheny and West Mifflin). ... The winner of Bradford and West Mifflin will take on the winner of Hampton/Montour. West Mifflin lost to Montour twice during the regular season and to Hampton in the semifinals of the playoffs two weeks ago.

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