“Both of us have been playing each other for a while,” Talladega head coach Chucky Miller said. “It’s a county game, it’s an area game. It has a bearing on your year because people ask ‘Did Sylacauga beat you or did you beat Sylacauga?’ all the time. It’s one of our biggest county rivals that we have.”
Talladega is currently at the top of Class 5A Area 8 with a 3-1 area record and 16-2 record overall. Meanwhile, Sylacauga is 1-2 in area play (10-7 overall). Talladega is coming off their first area loss of the season to Shelby County earlier this week. Both teams have beaten Chilton County.
“It’s an area game,” Sylacauga head coach Will Copeland said. “I think everybody in the whole area is trying to stay out of fourth place. I know Talladega is in first, and they’re playing real well; they’re 16-2. We’re just trying to go in and handle the pressure that they put on us. Last time we played them, we didn’t do a good job of that. They’re a very talented team, and they’re very well-coached.”
Earlier this season, Talladega defeated Sylacauga in a close 66-61 contest at Sylacauga.
“The first game we’d lead a while, they’d lead a while and finally we took the lead there at the end,” Miller said. “But it was a very close game; we expect another close game tomorrow night at our place. Sylacauga has been playing real well the way I understand since Christmas. They beat a couple 6A schools I believe. It’s one of our biggest rivalries, so I expect a close game.”
Most recently, Sylacauga defeated 6A team Oak Mountain, 43-41.
In the last meeting between Talladega and Sylacauga, Sylacauga ended the first quarter with a 17-13 lead by way of hot outside shooting.
“It seems like teams are so fired up to play us, they come out there and hit shot after shot to start the game and we dig ourselves a hole,” Miller said. “This has been our season where we have to come back from 10 and 12 down every game. We’re going to try to cut out some of their shooting in the first quarter because they hit five threes on us. We can’t let them get hot outside; they’re such good shooters.”
The key to the win for Talladega was their defense in the fourth quarter. The Tigers held Sylacauga to 11 points in the fourth quarter, while they managed to score 23 points. Miller said he hasn’t been pleased with his defensive performance of late.
“We’re trying to get better on defense,” he said. “Our defense the last couple of games has been lacking. We’ve given up too many points. We’re trying to correct it in practice and hopefully it will show in games. Teams are doing well against our press and our half-court defense. We’ll try to mix it up and give them different looks and try to find something that works. Basketball is a game where what might have worked in December may not be working in January because other teams are better. You better start improving your whole game because if you’re not getting any better, you’re getting behind.”
Copeland said how his team responds to Talladega’s defense will be critical to the game’ outcome, but he also wants to see a better defensive showing from the Aggies.
“They’ve got a post player inside and guards that can shoot,” he said. “Our game plan is just try to guard them a little bit better than we did the last time. We didn’t handle their pressure well, and we made some silly mistakes. It’s just seeing if we’ve gotten any better since the last time we played them. It’s all about trying to win the area and host the area. We have an outside shot, but it’s a tough row to hoe in front of us.”
The varsity girls squads for the respective schools square off at 6 p.m. at Miller Arena. The last time the two teams played Shakayla Thomas scored a career-high 53 points.
Varsity boys action is slated to follow around 7:30 p.m.