CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The beauty of basketball is that it quite often offers a second chance. A team that improves gets a do-over from a game it lost earlier in the season.
That's what Woodrow Wilson is thinking.
The Flying Eagles get an opportunity to make up for one of their earlier losses tonight when they collide with South Charleston in the boys championship game during the Mountain State Athletic Conference Night of Champions at the SC Community Center. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.
That game, pitting teams riding long winning streaks, caps a full day of activity at the Community Center, as the MSAC stages its skills competitions in the morning, followed by the girls consolation game (Spring Valley vs. Parkersburg) at 2 p.m., the boys consolation (Hurricane vs. George Washington) at 4 and the girls championship (Huntington vs. GW) at 6.
SC (18-1), ranked No. 2 in West Virginia Class AAA, has captured its last 13 games and No. 3 Woodrow (16-4) totes a 12-game winning run.
The Flying Eagles would like to show SC what they're really all about and erase memories of a 51-44 loss suffered to the Black Eagles at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center on Jan. 8.
"They were playing a lot better than we were at that time,'' said Woodrow coach Ron Kidd, "and I'm sure they're playing a lot better than that now. But I think we have [gotten better]. I think we're playing team ball on offense and defense - coming together on both sides of the ball.
"I think it will be a good game. We kind of mirror each other a little bit.''
In the first meeting, SC's pressure defense helped force 21 Woodrow turnovers and keyed a third-quarter burst that put the Black Eagles up by as many as 12 points. The Flying Eagles later shaved that back as close as one.
"Their defense gave us some problems,'' Kidd said, "and caused us to make some turnovers at times. If we'd have capitalized, the game could have been different.''
There's no secret as to where the battle lines are drawn for this showdown.
During its 12-game win streak, Woodrow Wilson's run-and-gun attack racked up 70 or more points eight times; during SC's 13-game skein, its defense has held opponents under 50 points eight times.
"We have to guard them,'' said SC coach Vic Herbert. "We have to make sure we make it tough on them to score, and that can keep us in the game.
"They're just so good. They can match us athletically, which a lot of teams can't. Our athletes are 5-11, 6-foot and they've got some 6-3, 6-4. We've just got our work cut out for us. To me, they're as good as anybody - I'd compare them to the Kentucky team we lost to earlier this season [Madison Central]. They've got that many athletes.''
Also at risk tonight is South Charleston's remarkable run in MSAC games, a streak that's reached 40 wins in a row. It's the Black Eagles' final MSAC contest until the 2013-14 season.
"I'm sure they're out for us,'' Herbert said. "They've only beaten us one time since I've been here - and that was the three-overtime game at their place [in 2011]. We've had success against them.
"But Coach Kidd's really turned them around - from 4-4 to 16-4. They guard well, they push the ball well, they shoot the 3 well. They don't have any weaknesses.''
Girls championship: GW vs. Huntington
GW has advanced to the semifinals of the girls state tournament the past two years and captured regional titles, but is still seeking that elusive MSAC crown.
The Patriots will be playing in the Night of Champions for a third time in the last four years, but lost the last two to South Charleston.
"That's something at my time at GW we haven't accomplished yet,'' said GW coach Jamie LaMaster. "The conference title has been elusive for us.
"It's a goal with an asterisk beside it. We have a stat in our locker room. 'The Road to the East Division.' We track the teams we have to beat. We're excited for the opportunity. It really gives you something to play for.''
The Patriots are powered by the inside-outside game of senior guard Rachel Ward and junior post Kelli Jo Harrison. Ward is a top-10 scorer in the conference, averaging 17.9 points, while Harrison adds 16 points per game and averages double-digit rebounds.
Sophomore point guard Alanna Mobayed does a little bit of everything for GW, while senior guard Kayla Stewart is a threat from long range and senior 6-foot center Leslie Gilmore provides steady defense and rebounding and hit for a season-high 15 points in a win over Princeton last week that locked up the East title.
GW lost at home to Huntington 69-50 on Jan. 9. The Patriots, though, have won eight of their last 11 games.
The Highlanders have taken 10 of 11, their only blip a 64-61 loss at Ironton (Ohio).
"I think we've improved since that game and I'm sure they have too,'' LaMaster said. "I feel like we're a little bit better prepared to compete with Huntington. We need to make the fewer amount of mistakes and better execute our system and what we're trying to accomplish.''
Huntington senior forward-guard Kiana Evans, who has signed to play at Marshall, is the second-leading scorer in the MSAC at 20.8 points per game. Freshman guard Dazha Congleton adds 11.8 points for the Highlanders while freshman post Ericka Budd (8.5) and senior post Dominique Gibson (7.6) give them a scoring punch inside.
Senior guard-forward Alexis Williams and sophomore guard Lacy Johnson are also capable of hitting double figures.
"Whenever you play Huntington, you're going to play athletic, gifted, talented players who want to get up and down the floor and play fast,'' said LaMaster. "You have to control the tempo. If you are going to get in a running game with them, you're going to be in trouble.''
Skills competitions, awards
The event begins at 10 a.m. today with the skills competitions, which include boys and girls free-throw shooting, boys and girls 3-point shootout, boys dunking contest and a hot shot team competition featuring one boy and one girl from each of the MSAC's 15 schools.
Tickets are priced at $7 for students and $8 general admission. Fans can get their hands stamped upon arrival, leave and re-enter, but only until 5 p.m.