Just six points separated Apple Valley and Lakeville North in their South Suburban Conference showdown on Jan. 9. The Eagles led by three at halftime before the Panthers recovered to win 73-67.
Neither team has lost since that Tuesday, which means our Top Game of the Week will see an end to either Apple Valley's nine-game winning streak or Lakeville North's 11-game undefeated run.
The Eagles, ranked No. 5 in Class 4A by Minnesota Basketball News, have taken care of business in league play since losing to the Panthers with nine victories that have been instrumental in keeping Apple Valley (16-4, 11-1) within a game of conference-leading Lakeville North.
And with a victory on Tuesday, Apple Valley has a chance to control its league destiny -- one that would extend its reign over the conference to six consecutive titles.
But the Eagles also have an opportunity to prove they are a legitimate threat to compete against some of the state's top teams, as none of their nine victories have come against ranked opponents.
The rematch with Lakeville North is Apple Valley's final regular-season game against a top-10-ranked opponent, which makes the contest a benchmark before the postseason.
Duke commit Tre Jones led all scorers with 22 points in the Jan. 9 game, and his 24.1 points-per-game average is the best of any player on either team entering this game. However, he is not the only player capable of scoring for Apple Valley. Ely Hendrickson had 21 points on seven three-pointers against the Panthers, while Luke Martens (11.5 ppg) and Nathan Macho (10.2 ppg) are both capable scorers.
Lakeville North (18-2, 12-0) does not possess the individual offensive firepower of the Eagles, but the roster for the No. 3-4A Panthers has plenty of talent. Tyler Wahl leads the team in most statistics, as he averages 16.6 points, 13.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 3.5 blocks per game. Tyler Lewko and Tommy Jensen supplement the scoring with 11.4 and 10.8 ppg, respectively.
Lakeville North's regular-season schedule has six games remaining, five against South Suburban opponents. If the Panthers can defend home court in this contest, they will be well on their way to the conference title. Perhaps more importantly, sweeping the Eagles — the defending league and state champs — in the regular season would solidify Lakeville North's belief it can make a run at the Class 4A title.