Head coach Brad Wetzel knows his Greater Latrobe basketball team didn’t play well — in just about any facet of the game — during last Friday’s 30-point loss, 68-38, at Franklin Regional in its WPIAL Class 5A Section 3 opener following a nearly four-week layoff.
But this season, more than ever, the Wildcats can’t afford to be missing practices...simply because of the way they want — and need — to play.
And that’s exactly what happened when the state shut down winter sports because of the pandemic. With cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the rise, Gov. Tom Wolf hit the pause button for three full weeks with only practices — under PIAA rule — permitted in the subsequent four days prior to athletics being allowed to resume after that.
“The players were left on their own for that time,” Wetzel noted. “Maybe some teams are affected more than others,” Wetzel continued. “I’m not sure. It was definitely difficult for us to try and be in game shape.
“We certainly are not, from an execution standpoint or a stamina standpoint. We’re not where we need to be.”
Out of necessity, Greater Latrobe is going to have to play a full-court game.
And that goes for both ends of the floor.
“We want to get the tempo up,” Wetzel confirmed, “but you’re not going to be able to have that an entire game...especially against a team that doesn’t want that. It’s another thing if the other teams wants to play the same way.
“My sense is that the layoff did hurt us, but that might just be looking at it from my perspective. It certainly was difficult for us to ramp things up in four days and try and get to where we need to be to compete.”
But at least the Wildcats — in addition to all of the teams across the state — are back on the court. For that, Wetzel is grateful.
“I’m just glad for the players that they are able to have a season,” Wetzel responded. “It’s a big relief.
“Hopefully this one will hold, but we’re going to be fluid with any changes we may have to make. But, all in all, we’re looking forward to having some type of a season.
“We hope to get all of our section games in. Then we have that open playoff system, and we’ll go from there.
“We just have to make sure we’re playing our best basketball going into the playoffs, which is something we certainly didn’t do (Friday) night.”
Greater Latrobe (0-1, 0-2) was up on Franklin Regional (1-0) by one, 19-18, after the first quarter. But that’s when the Panthers switched from man-to-man to a zone defense and stayed in it the rest of the game.
“That was certainly part of it,” Wetzel acknowledged. “But when you see a collapse like that, there are so many little things that go into it. It’s usually not just one thing.
“But certainly a big thing was that they were able to establish a half-court game, and we didn’t respond well to try and change the tempo.
“We were able to get some decent looks at the basket in the first quarter, but when they went to a zone, we started standing around too much. That changed the whole complexion of the game.”
Sophomore guard Landon Butler had six of his team-high 13 points, and senior guard Ryan Sickenberger five in the first quarter. However, it was all Franklin Regional in the second and third.
The Panthers scored the first 15 points of the second while holding the Wildcats to two, and ended first half on an 18-2 run. That made it 36-21.
“They wanted to play a methodical, half-court game,” Wetzel indicated. “We’ve got to do a much better job on both ends of the floor in applying ball-pressure defensively and with our execution on offense.
“There was very little movement on our part. We were way too stagnant for too long of a period of time.”
Greater Latrobe’s struggles spilled over into the second half, as well. The Wildcats were outscored by 10 in the third quarter (16-6) and managed only eight field goals from the first on.
“If you don’t score, it can be difficult to try and impose defensive pressure,” Wetzel stated. “But it’s not impossible. You still have to be able to fight through those times when you don’t score.”
For Greater Latrobe, Butler was the lone player in double figures in points. Ryan Sickenberger finished with seven, and junior guard-forward Chase Sickenberger five.
By contrast, Franklin Regional had three players reach double-digit scoring. Senior forward Kadyn Hannah netted 19, senior Luke Kimmich 17, and junior Caden Smith 13.
So, Wetzel also knows the Wildcats have a lot to work on in a short period of time.
“We can’t go trying to solve all of the problems at once,” Wetzel stressed. “We’re kind of picking our battles right now to work on one thing at a time.
“Hopefully our performance is better on Tuesday, and we can continue to work on what we need to a little bit at a time. We’re not going to be able to do it all at once.”
The Wildcats continue section play, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to open the home season against McKeesport Area. Greater Latrobe played without starting senior guard Drew Clair against Franklin Regional. He was in self-quarantine, but is expected to return on Tuesday.
Greater Latrobe’s junior varsity also lost to Franklin Regional, 52-44. Daruis Davis led the Wildcats with 11 points while Ben Hamaty had eight, Koen Fulton seven, and Conner Lakin six.