Jan. 26, 2005 - GAME OF THE WEEK: The Pusch Ridge girls basketball team can clinch first place this week with a win over rival Benson, when the Lions and Bobcats meet in the last regular season region game ever between the two schools.

The Lions (17-2, 8-0 in 2A Desert Region) will travel to Benson (4-2) to take on the second place Bobcats Jan. 27.

A region championship this season will give the Lions their fourth title in five years. With only four games left to play, PRCA can officially seal the region by beating the Bobcats, despite the fact that Benson has played two fewer games. All teams play a 12-game region schedule.

A win over the Lions should move Benson among the region's elite squads and give the Bobcats a firm standing over St. Gregory's (3-3), Baboquivari (4-4) and Tombstone (3-4).

Benson shut down the Lions for two quarters the last time the two squads met Jan. 4 at Pusch Ridge. The Lions managed just 10 combined points in the first and fourth quarters (six in the first) against the Bobcats' 2-3 zone. Yet, in that game, the Lions outlasted Benson 36-24 for their first region win.

PRCA head coach Lonnie Tvrdy believes the Bobcats will bring a new approach to shutting down the region leader the second time around. After the last game, Tvrdy said he overheard Benson saying they would switch to a man-to-man style defense in the rematch. It's a prospect Tvrdy relishes.

"We're hoping like crazy that they do," said the coach, who added that every team plays the 2-3 zone against the Lions, most with little luck. The Lions haven't lost a region game in two years and went undefeated in the 2A last season. Its region winning streak of more than 20 games makes PRCA the school everyone wants to beat.

"The bull's eye is definitely on our back," said Tvrdy who says the Lions can't take Benson lightly.

To slow the Bobcats, Tvrdy's squad will need to solve Benson's post strong post defense. They'll do that by imposing its own dominating play beneath the basket.

Senior Reagan Sutton and junior Holly Paddock give the Lions a controlling presence on the boards. When the Bobcats take the floor against the Lions a second time out, PRCA will have a slightly new look to its lineup.

The emergence of forward Jamie Shepherd, a 6-foot-1-inch freshman, will allow Tvrdy to rest Paddock and Sutton, while not sacrificing any height.

By shifting Shepherd into the equation, junior Emily Bronson can go to the outside, where her ability to hit the long shot makes PRCA even more difficult to defend.

These two squads could meet again in the regional playoffs, which will be held Feb. 11 and 12 in Casa Grande. Four teams from the 2A Desert South will qualify for the region playoffs. By winning the region, PRCA will get an automatic bid into the state playoffs, which will be held Feb. 18 and 19 in Phoenix.

PRCA will travel to Benson to face the Bobcats Jan. 27. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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