Last week, the Waynesville Tigers, now 13-11 overall, lost to Ozark powerhouse Kickapoo. Now, Coach Chris Pilz and his student-athletes face one more regular season challenge – Republic tonight at 5:30 – before traveling to Rolla as the three seed for the annual Class 5, District 10 tournament. Take a look at how the Tigers coach is excited for the opportunities ahead:
Q: What happened [Friday] against Kickapoo in Springfield, Mo.?
Pilz: "Kickapoo is not bad; they've got a good team. We did a good job on their outside shooters but allowed backside rebounds so our little guys just couldn't keep [Kickapoo] off the boards. [Juwan] Morgan, we can't afford to get him a foul without [Javante] Armstrong out right now. When Morgan has to be drawn to help, someone's got to rotate that's not very big. That's what got us is [Kickapoo's] ability to backside rebound and our turnovers. But I told our three seniors that we still have an opportunity to win a district title and advance in the state playoffs – there's still a lot of season left."
Q: You've had some close games, some tough losses and health issues. Having to overcome those things, how does that prepare your team?
A: "Adversity is part of any athletic team, any sport. The top eight [players] we started with – what I thought would be our top eight – in the middle of November, after a couple weeks of practice, we were missing a few of those guys. That happens. And, you know, we've played some awfully good teams and we beat a few, but we've had some tough losses. I think that just makes makes you stronger if you handle it the right way. As the coaching staff, we're just trying to give teaching points on how to do something a little better or improve something; we'll continue to do that whether win or lose."
Q: So there's one home game left. What are your thoughts?
A: "Republic is ranked [second] in southwest Missouri this week. They're a very good team, like a lot of teams on our schedule: high-skilled players, good shooters, play good defense. It's going to be a challenge, the kind of game you need before you go in the district tournament. I would expect a heck of a ballgame and expect our guys to show up and compete really hard. If we can limit our turnovers and bad shots, we're going to be hard to deal with.
Q: How healthy is this team headed into the final stretch?
A: "Losing Armstrong, if he's not able to come back, that's a guy that gets 10 rebounds a game most nights and averages seven points a game. He's one of the guys that's been consistent. I like guys that are consistent because I know what they're going to bring to the table night in and out. That's something we're searching for. One of these days the light's going to come on and we're going to be really good. It may be tomorrow night, it may be a week down the road, it may be six months down the road, but we're not far from it."
Page 2 of 2 - Q: We've talked about the district tournament coming up. Are you looking forward to a chance at revenge against Rolla?
A: " I don't know about that. We're just going to look at them as an opponent. They were able to beat us early in the year and beat us last year in the district game. Hopefully we can just go in and do what we do well and try to stop what they do well, regardless if it's Rolla, Lebanon, or Washington. Put-out games where you win or go home are the ones I used to really like to play in, I really like to coach in, so I think our guys will embrace it. This time of year, everybody is going to give you their best shot because nobody wants to go home.
Q: How proud of the Tigers are you to this point?
A: "We've got good kids, kids that work hard. We have to continue to work on our basketball skills and game skills and continue to get better. And our kids have to be positive and work hard when we're doing that. It is a process. It's hard being patient. We all want to win right now and come next week, you don't win and you're going home and putting your shoes in a locker for awhile."