Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013, 9:39 pm

Lady Rocks, Panthers is can't miss

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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Rock Island senior Shavonne Brewer dribbles around United Township Jamie VanWatermeulen in Rock Island on Thursday, November 29, 2012.
Tonight is one of those can't-miss nights.

The reigning girls' basketball co-champions of the Western Big 6 Conference -- Rock Island and United Township -- square off with the league lead at stake.

Everyone knew the Rocks were going to be good this year, returning star Shavonne Brewer and having underclass teams that rarely lost.What's shocking to anyone that pays close attention to local girls hoops is that United Township is playing for a chance to share the lead with just three weeks to play.

The rest of the league is fighting for position, although Galesburg will be back in the chase if the Rocks fall to the Panthers. The Silver Streaks need to win at Quincy to make next Thursday's tilt with the Rocks relevant. At 0-6, Alleman is probably the best winless team in Big 6 history. That doesn't mean much to Jay Hatch's bunch, who would gladly trade that title for a few wins.

Rock Island (20-2, 6-0 Big 6) at United Township (13-8, 5-1): The Rocks are ranked No. 7 by The Associated Press again this week, and can start to put the finishing touches on back-to-back titles if they can win tonight at UT. Since losing back-to-back games at the State Farm Holiday Classic, the Rocks have looked good, clutch and all those cliché things you say about teams who know how to win. Getting a victory over Assumption plays a pretty big part in that. The emergence of Mercedes Jackson continues, the brilliance of Brewer is center stage nearly every night, while the rest of the Rocks have started to learn, understand and execute their roles.

The Panthers are a bit more gritty than the Rocks. UT is totally defensive minded, and pretty darn good. In 13 of their 21 games, the Panthers have held opponents to less than 40 points, winning 12 of those games. They have nice size with Katie Daggett down low, who is leading the conference in rebounding, and a sharp shooter in Tayler Dobrinske. Both Jen and Jamie VanWatermeulen provide steady defense, and the trio of Sadie Roberts, Charmaine Clark and Jada Harris have shown the future in the post looks bright.

The two met in the second week of the Big 6 season, and Rocky barely pulled away with a 56-51 win. Rocky is averaging 68 points a game, and if it gets into the 60s again, it should be in good shape. For the Panthers to pull off the upset, they'll have to be ready to look for easy baskets in transition, keep a hand in Rocky shooters face, and hope that in the fourth quarter, they've got enough to get to the finish.

Galesburg (15-7, 4-2) at Quincy (9-8, 1-5): The Blue Devils really are a sleeping dragon in the Western Big 6. They are good enough to beat anyone on any night, but haven't been disciplined enough yet to knock off anyone except basement-dwelling Alleman. First-year coach Demond Dade is saying and doing all the right things, but the senior class may be too far gone to turn things around at this point. Dade is in it for the long haul, even though his daughter, and top scorer, Arai'ya is graduating this spring. College scouts are starting to see that Dade and, maybe moreso, Jordan Fletcher could play college ball.

The Silver Streaks have a lot to play for tonight and won't overlook the Devils. A win means they're still in the chase for the Western Big 6 title. Galesburg is in the toughest two week stretch of their season. After playing 3A state-ranked No. 3 Champaign Centennial last Saturday, they'll also have to go up against Normal U-High, 3A-ranked No. 8 Morton and travel to 4A ranked No. 7 Rock Island next Thursday. That kind of schedule will have the Streaks ready for the postseason.

Moline (7-16, 2-4) at Alleman (10-11, 0-6): It's going to be a tough night for the Alleman Pioneers. Just hours before they tip against the Maroons, the funeral of Jordan Schmidt will take place in Don Morris Gymnasium. The Pioneers desperately need a win in the Big 6 even if their title hopes may be out the window. They're coming around and have an excellent team despite their conference record and will be playing with a lot of emotion tonight.

Moline is skidding and can't find the brake. Since the Peoria Manual Holiday Tournament, the Maroons have lost all three games, none by fewer than nine. The Maroons are inconsistent, but are getting contributions from the underclassmen, and there's hope on the horizon for Moline as well as their sophomore class is tough to beat and creeping up on 20 wins.

This weekend: The MLK Classic concludes with Galesburg playing Peoria Notre Dame at Knox College and U-High at Thiel on Saturday, then getting Morton on Monday. Alleman plays U-High at Lombard Middle School on Saturday, then takes on Peoria Notre Dame in a diocesan challenge at Thiel in the afternoon. On Monday, Alleman will play Peoria High. United Township will get a little more mileage as they travel down to Morton to conclude their portion of the tournament against Centennial in the morning and Morton in the afternoon. ... The Rocks are off until they host Galesburg next Thursday as in Moline, waiting to travel to Quincy in Week 8 of the Western Big 6 season.
Contact girls' basketball reporter Dan Tomlin at