March 3, 2011 9:41:00 AM
REFORM, Ala. -- The defense hasn''t rested this season for the Pickens County High School boys basketball team.
Whether it has been with steals or with pressure that forces opponents into mistakes, the Tornadoes have lived up their billing and created a whirlwind of destruction on both ends of the floor.
Pickens County (29-1) will try to complete its twisting path at 8 tonight when it takes on Cedar Bluff in the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 1A title game at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.
"It is teamwork and they believe in what we do with the defense," Pickens County High School coach Russ Wallace said. "They believe the defense will generate offense, and once you get a group of kids to understand that and to believe in that, they work for the steals, they work for the denials, they work for those blocked shots and to help on the back side and to get guys in traps.
"When you get a group of guys working together and they do it as well as this bunch does, it is fun to watch."
A deeper, more balanced Pickens County team used a 14-steal effort Tuesday night to beat Keith 65-57 in the semifinals.
Led by senior Deion Curry, who epitomizes the team''s unselfish nature by coming off the bench, the Tornadoes will try to win their second state crown in as many years. They won the Class 2A championship last season.
Defense has fueled the return to Birmingham. Victories against Class 6A Northridge, Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa, and Homewood, Class 5A Sylacauga, and Class 4A Holt have come along the way thanks to the high-pressure attack that can go as 15 deep.
Wallace said the Tornadoes stuck with an eight-player rotation last season and relied on Curry, the MVP of the state tournament, and Nick Stewart, and LaJuan Doss. Those three have blossomed with the emergence of juniors Demarko Hall and Warren Betts and senior LaGlendale Hughes.
"Basically what we have said to each other is the only team that is going to beat us is us," Wallace said. "If we get in the way of ourselves and we become selfish and we go out and half-way play and throw it all over the gym and don''t do what we have been taught, we''ll let somebody slip up and beat us that shouldn''t.
"We have proven we can beat anybody in the state. We have knocked off two teams in the top five in Class 6A, and that''s saying a mouthful for a small school like us. ... I think they realize we have to go out and do our job. If we go out and do our job, we will be successful and have a chance to win another state championship."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.