By KEVIN HARRIS
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
Since becoming the new Jeffersonville High School girls’ basketball coach last August, Mike Warren has learned a lot of things about his players.
One significant item that the New Albany graduate has found out — the Red Devils are sick and tired of losing to his alma mater.
At 7:30 tonight at The Doghouse, Jeff (11-5, 2-2 Hoosier Hills Conference) will try to get back on the winning side in its annual rivalry with the Bulldogs (6-9, 2-3).
New Albany has won the last two meetings with the Red Devils. The Bulldogs prevailed at Johnson Arena last season (55-43), following a victory over Jeff (54-42) during the 2011-12 campaign at The Doghouse.
“The rivalry is important,” Warren said. “If we play the way we are supposed to play and the girls come out and compete, we can flip it our way.”
The Red Devils lead the all-time series over the Bulldogs, 39-32. Jeff’s last victory in the rivalry came in its 2010-11 Class 4A state championship season, which was a 54-42 victory in the sectional semifinals.
Jeff enters tonight’s game as one of the most improved teams in Southern Indiana after experiencing back-to-back losing seasons the past two years.
The Red Devils have four players who are averaging at least eight points per game. Senior guard Aurreeshae Hines is Jeff’s leading scorer at 14 points per contest, followed by senior center Haley Vogen at 12 points a clip.
Sophomore guard Taylor Sykes and junior forward Emily Gray are averaging nine and eight points per game, respectively. Vogen leads the Devils in rebounding, grabbing seven boards per game.
“They’ve been playing very well,” New Albany coach Tammy Geron said. “They have balanced scoring and a balanced attack. They score points off their defense. They have multiple ways of scoring from multiple people.”
Jeff has won four of its last five contests. But in their last game, the Red Devils suffered a disappointing 47-44 loss at Jasper.
Still, Warren has been pleased with the season so far.
“It’s that time of the year where you have to be playing your best basketball and we’re right there,” Warren said. “We’ve won some close games this season. The good thing about that is we’ve won them. But the bad thing is we’ve gotten down in some of those games.”
While the Red Devils have been winning on a consistent basis for most of the season, the Bulldogs have bounced back from a rough start to the campaign.
New Albany began the season dropping six of its first seven games and was 3-9 after the first 12 contests.
But the Bulldogs have been on a roll in the last two weeks, as they enter tonight’s game with a three-game winning streak. Two of those three victories have been HHC road games, which were a 54-46 win at Floyd County rival Floyd Central on Jan. 11 and a 52-50 triumph last Saturday at Columbus East.
“We had to settle into our roles a little bit. We’re learning to play with our strengths and we’re working on our weaknesses in practice,” Geron said. “The difference for us has been on the defensive end. We’re trying to buckle down on defense and we’re working on our rebounding.”
Warren says the Bulldogs have been playing more zone defense lately, and it has worked to their advantage.
“They’re using more zone, which allows them to use their length and athleticism,” Warren said. “They’re playing well at the right time, especially with us coming in there.”
The player who has helped New Albany a lot during its recent win streak is Brittany Knight.
The senior guard, who transferred back to New Albany this season after spending 1 1/2 years at North Harrison, is coming off a 22-point performance in the Columbus East victory. Knight is the Bulldogs’ leading scorer at 14 points per game.
“Anytime you turn to a senior with some experience, it’s beneficial,” Geron said. “She has taken the reins of being our point guard. She helps on defense by pressuring the ball.”
New Albany junior guard Lauren Camm also has been playing well during the winning streak, especially on the glass. Camm recorded a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ 46-40 home victory over South Oldham (Ky.) on Jan. 14. She snagged a game-high 14 boards versus the Olympians last weekend.
Camm is New Albany’s co-leader in rebounds with junior forward Brianne Nixon at eight boards a game.
Warren says the keys for the Red Devils to break their two-game losing skid in the series are creating an up-tempo game and keeping New Albany off the offensive glass.
“We’re going to have to dictate the tempo. We want to play the game more at a fast pace,” Warren said. “If we can limit their offensive rebounds, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Geron thinks rebounding will be a key factor in tonight’s game as well. She also says the Bulldogs must limit their turnovers.
“We can’t give them 14 or 16 points off of their defense,” Geron said. “We can’t let them score off their defense, and we’ve got to win the battle of the boards.”
JEFF-NEW ALBANY MATCHUP
• DATE: Tonight
• TIME: 7:30
• PLACE: The Doghouse
• SERIES RECORD: Jeffersonville leads 39-32
• LAST MEETING: Jan. 18, 2013 at Johnson Arena — New Albany 55, Jeff 43.
• NOTES: The Bulldogs have won two consecutive games in the series. They are currently on a three-game winning streak. The Red Devils enter the contest winning four of their last five games. Jeff coach Mike Warren is a New Albany graduate and a former assistant coach for the Bulldogs’ boys’ basketball team.