Staff Photo: Jason Braverman North Gwinnett's Lexie Brown (4) is fouled while driving to the basket by Central Gwinnett's Caryn Ivey (24) during the first half of Thursday's final in the Jared Cook Holiday Classic.
As the first cycle of most high school basketball regions' schedules comes to a close, it's quite common to see a handful of "swing" games that have a big impact on an individual region's standings.
Both ends of tonight's Region 7-AAAAA boys and girls doubleheader between Norcross and North Gwinnett at Norcross' "House of Blue," fit very much into the "swing" category.
The girls contest, which begins the evening with a 6 p.m. tipoff, has the most direct impact, with two state-ranked opponents -- the two-time defending Class AAAAA state champion Blue Devils (13-3) No. 2 in the initial Associated Press poll and the Bulldogs (13-1) coming in at No. 7 -- tied atop the region standings at 6-0.
Still, Norcross coach Angie Hembree isn't ready to read too much into tonight's game in the long run.
"We're still in January. It's still early, and there are still a lot of games left to play (after tonight)," Hembree said. "It's not a one-game thing. We'll see them again (in the regular season), and maybe again after that.
"A win is what we're looking for, but it's a marathon, not a sprint. But it's just a great rivalry. ... It's great for the kids and great for the community."
Hembree's position is understandable given the impressive battles the two teams engaged in last season.
North lifted itself onto the statewide scene by surprising Norcross and handing it two of its three losses last season behind Maryland-commit Lexie Brown, who averaged 21.5 points in both victories, before the Blue Devils earned the last laugh with a victory over the Bulldogs in the region tournament championship game behind Diamond DeShields' 34 points.
Many players on both sides -- including DeShields and Brown, who are first and third in the county in scoring, respectively -- are back for tonight's game, and North coach Bryan Sellers expects a similar type atmosphere.
"We're really in the same position as last year," Sellers said. "I feel like we're ready. We had three good games with them last year. (Tonight's) game should be good for girls basketball."
While the Norcross and North girls will battle to see which team takes sole possession of the region lead as the region schedule recycles, the boys meeting between the Blue Devils and Bulldogs should provide an even more dramatic swing situation.
Winners of its last six games after Monday's 56-53 win over Greeneview (Ohio) in Dayton, Ohio, Norcross (10-6, 7-0) is hoping to take a commanding lead in the region race heading into the second round of the region schedule.
However, North (10-7, 5-1) is not only hoping to pull even with Norcross atop the region standings and pull the Blue Devils back to the rest of the field, but is also hoping to maintain momentum gained by winning four of its last five games.
"It's an important game for us," Bulldogs coach Zach Smith said. "Any win on the road in this region is a big one, especially if it's a win at Norcross. It would put us in the driver's seat in the region."
Tonight's game also marks the return of North guard Chris Bolden to Norcross, where he played the last two seasons, including helping the Blue Devils to last year's Class AAAAA state title.
As a result, the 6-foot-3 Georgia Tech signee, who scored 28 points in North's 72-50 win over McEachern in Saturday's On The Radar Invitational, figures to be a focal point for the Norcross student section.
But Smith is confident his senior guard will remain focused.
"Emotions will be high for both teams," Smith said. "But Chris is a very mature young man. He doesn't let things like that get to him. He's a gamer."