Basketball playoffs: Lakeview boys, girls both shooting for history

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
Posted 7:02AM on Friday 1st March 2024 ( 2 months ago )

COLUMBUS, Ga. — The Lakeview Academy basketball teams will play the biggest games in program history on Friday.

Both coaches – Benjie Wood for the boys and Ken Huffman for the Lady Lions -- have similar answers to the question, “Are both programs ready to make history?”

The Lakeview girls will take on defending GIAA Class 3A state champion Deerfield-Windsor (6:20 p.m. tip-off), while the boys will match up with top-seed Heritage-Newnan (8 p.m. tip) at Columbus State, with both trying to win their first-ever state titles.

Wood, who guided both the Gainesville boys (2018) and Buford boys (2022) to championship games, knows a thing or two about getting prepared to try and capture a championship. He said you really don’t change as much as fans would think.

“We’ve been preparing for this all year,” he said. “At this point, we just make a few tweaks to what we always do, but there won’t be many changes." 

Asked about any Knute Rockne-like speeches, he offered this: “What I tell my kids is this...emotions don’t win championships. Execution and toughness win championships. We have to control our emotions and play our game.”

The Lions (25-5) will have their hands full against a Heritage-Newnan (26-4) team that leads GIAA Class 3A in wins, including owning a pair of wins over GHSA Class 6A playoff teams Gainesville and Jonesboro, which advanced to the Final Four in 6A.

“Heritage is a great basketball team. They have five basketball players that play the game the right way,” Wood said. 

The Lions stuck to their plan of feeding junior forward Tayden Ware down low in the semifinals, including a daring lob pass inside with 4 seconds left that resulted in Ware’s dropping in a layup at the buzzer to beat defending state champion St. Andrews, 56-54, in overtime.

Wood said that will once again be a key element to success in the finals.

“I think the key to us winning is executing our game plan for 32 minutes,” he said. “We can’t lose our composure and stray from the game plan for big stretches.”

For Lady Lions coach Ken Huffman, a trip to the finals is a first for him and his staff. But they are just taking it in stride as they chase their first title. But he said they are treating it like just another game.

“Although this is for a title, you are prepared for this, just like every other game of the season,” Huffman said.

The two teams are no strangers. Deerfield-Windsor (24-5) knocked the Lady Lions (26-1) out of the playoffs last season in the semifinals. This time, Lakeview comes in as the No. 1 seed and perhaps the team to beat.

Huffman said the key is to focus on themselves.

“The only team that can beat you is yourself,” he said. “Our formula is simple. Play defense. As long as we play defense the way we play defense, we have a shot to win any game.”

The matchup will feature some of the best guard play in the state with Lakeview’s Dynesty Putman, Emyrie Combs, and Annie Nivens against Deerfield’s Joi Hubbard, who was the main weapon in the Lady Knights’ win over the Lady Lions last season.

Huffman said Hubbard would get plenty of attention after their semifinal win over Terrell Academy on Wednesday.

“Hubbard is a dog out on the court,” he said. “She really hurt us last year, so we’re going to have to find a way to slow her down.”

Tayden Ware (3) will be looked to as a key offensive weapon for Lakeview Academy against Heritage-Newnan in the GIAA Class 3A state championship game on Friday at Columbus State. (Photo/Seth Chapman)
Lakeview Academy’s Dynesty Putman (1) will play an integral part against Deerfield-Windsor on Friday in the GIAA Class 3A state championship game at Columbus State. (Photo/Seth Chapman)

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