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Chipola Prepares for Final Four Game


The semifinals are set for the 62nd annual NJCAA Tournament and the matchups feature a Southwestern flavor in one game, and another between two schools who were the finalists for one of the tournament's top talents.

Chipola, Fla., the No. 1-ranked team in the final regular-season poll, will meet the Salt Lake (Utah) Bruins at 6 p.m. today in the Sports Arena, while Connors State, Okla., and Midland, Texas, will engage in an old-fashioned shootout around 8.

None of the four teams has won by less than 11 points in any of the eight games they have been involved in, and they are a combined 122-17 for the season.

No one has a better record than the Indians of Chipola, who bring a 33-1 record into their showdown with Salt Lake. But then again, no team has played better than the Bruins from Utah, who have won their two games by an average of 27 points a game.

Still, as good as his team is playing, Salt Lake coach Norm Parrish believes his team will have to raise its play another notch today.

"I was hoping maybe a couple of them would get hurt today, you know, hit their heads on the bottom of the rim or something like that," a joking Parrish said Wednesday. "Obviously, they're the No. 1 team in the country and are unbelievably talented. Coach (Greg) Heiar does some great things with that team. They're on a mission and playing very well."

But, the 13th-ranked Bruins have been on a mission as well, with an 18-point victory (77-59) over 31-2 Shelton State, Ala., and a 36-point thumping (91-55) over North Dakota College of Science.

"If we bring the effort, if we play within ourselves, hopefully we can play with them," Parrish said. "We haven't played perfect by any means here, but in this tournament and our district game ... we've really been playing our best basketball as of late."

No one in the tournament has been playing as well as Salt Lake's 6-foot-7 freshman D.J. Wright, who has scored 50 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in two games.

Wright, who originally signed with Louisiana Tech before going the junior college route, said Chipola and Salt Lake were the final two schools he was looking at before choosing the Bruins.

"I visited the school (Chipola) during the summer and they have a lot of good guys on the team," Wright said. "Knowing they lost in the first round last year, they're going to be ready. We're going to have to go out and compete and be ready."

As far as the recruiting battle between the two schools, Wright remains happy where he's at.

"It was the right choice for me," Wright said. "Both are good schools, but I knew Coach Parrish would get the most out of me."

Chipola outlasted No. 4-ranked Southwest Tennessee in their first game of the tournament on Tuesday before coming from behind for an 82-66 victory over Lamar, Colo., one day later.

Six different players have scored in double figures for the Indians in their two victories and they have shot 50 percent from the field. Casey Mitchell, a 6-5 sophomore, has scored 40 points in two games.

Connors State (28-7) is the lone unranked team in the tournament Final Four, but has been nearly as impressive as any of the other three schools The Cowboys outscored Mississippi Gulf Coast, 99-87, in their opener before posting an impressive 83-64 victory over Garden City on Thursday.

The Cowboys have six players averaging in double figures in their two victories, led by 6-5 freshman Chris Blake, who is averaging 19 points a game. C.J. Washington, a 6-7 freshman, is averaging 13.5 points and 11.5 rebounds a contest.

"This team has been resilient," said head coach Bill Muse. "They're determined not to lose."

Sixth-ranked Midland (32-3) was simply smokin' Thursday night in its 95-73 victory over South Georgia Tech. The Chaparrals shot an incredible 83 percent from the field (19 of 23) in the first half and finished the game hitting 32 of 44 for 73 percent.

The Chaparrals got 21 points and 12 rebounds from 6-7 sophomore Kavon Lytch against South Georgia, while 6-2 sophomore Greg Hill had 24 points in the tournament-opening win over Allegany, Md.

Salt Lake will be looking for its second consecutive appearance in the championship game. The Bruins lost a 67-56 decision to South Plains, Texas, a year ago.

Chipola, meanwhile, has advanced to a pair of title games - in 2007 and 1974 - but has finished second both times.

Midland and Connors will look to reach the finals with the opportunity to add another national title to the school's trophy case.

Midland won the 2007 championship - 94-75 over Chipola - and claimed the 1982 title in a double-overtime victory over Miami Dade. The Chaparrals also finished second to Southern Idaho in 1987.

Connors State reached the championship game in 1990 and defeated Southern Idaho, 103-87, to claim the national title.
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