With a 27-2 record, the Edwardsville Tigers have been hot all season.
But the Tigers' opponent in the semifinals of the Class 4A Pekin Sectional at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Alton High School has done something they have been unable to accomplish.
The O'Fallon Panthers (9-19), who finished in a last-place tie with Granite City in the Southwestern Conference, last Tuesday defeated top-seeded Belleville East en route to the O'Fallon Regional title.
Edwardsville, meanwhile, lost twice to the Lancers in the regular season.
"There are no upsets this time of year," Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo said. "O'Fallon is excellent. They beat Belleville East, and Belleville East was one of the best teams in our area in a long time. O'Fallon beat them, and that's all you need to say there.
"(O'Fallon) has got good personnel and they're playing good. We know we're going to have to play real well to beat them."
The championship game of the sectional will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Pekin High. The O'Fallon-Edwardsville winner will face Normal West or Rock Island, who meet in the other semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Pekin.
O'Fallon coach Rick Gibson said the Panthers, who topped Collinsville in the regional-championship game Friday, have come down from their emotional high and are ready for Edwardsville.
"I think our kids will be up for it," Gibson said. "We've had a good rivalry with Edwardsville over the last several years. This time of year, you've got to be up for it because it's your season."
Edwardsville defeated O'Fallon 75-61 on Jan. 4 in Edwardsville and 75-56 on Feb. 19 in O'Fallon.
"We've played OK," Gibson said of his team's performance in the games against the Tigers. "The first half at their place, we got off to a real good start and kept that game pretty close. The second time, we played them close as well. (But) once they get a lead, they're tough.
"If they get a lead, they spread the floor on you. They get tough at that point. They've got guards who can handle it, guys who can put the ball in the hole and they make free throws. They've been able to extend the lead on us both games in the second half by doing that."
Edwardsville's top players: Senior and Western Illinois recruit Garret Covington (18.6 points, 8.4 rebounds per game, 92 3-pointers), senior Tre' Harris (17.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 59 3-pointers) and senior Shawn Roundtree (9.8 points, 9.3 assists).
Gibson on the Tigers: "Roundtree is kind of an unsung hero. He does so much for them --handling the ball and just getting their offense started. They like to run so many things, and he's the one that gets it to Harris and Covington in the right spots to score. And (Drew) Curtis, at any given time, can knock down a shot to hurt you."
O'Fallon's top players: sophomore Donovan Franklin (15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds), senior Todd Porter (13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds) and sophomore Parker Roustio (8.4 points).
More from Waldo on the Panthers: "O'Fallon has a lot of talent. They've got big guys that play around the basket and also make it hard to score around the basket. They also have guys who can shoot and pass and dribble. That makes it hard to key on one person. They're a hard team to prepare for. Beating them would be a big accomplishment."
A new hero: Sophomore Darien McClain scored all seven of his points, including two 3-pointers, in the final minute of the Panthers' 46-44 victory over Collinsville on Friday.
McClain, Franklin and Roustio give the Panthers three promising sophomores to build around for next season.
Gibson said they are growing up in a hurry after the wins over the Lancers and Kahoks.
"Once we got past Belleville East, I think everyone was like, 'They got lucky once. They're not going to do it a second time,'" Gibson said. "Then we did it a second time and I'm sure there's still people thinking we're getting lucky or whatever.
"Luck plays a factor, but the kids are playing a lot harder and a lot better. They're playing together and they're starting to jell at the right time. At the end of February and the start of March is when you want to be playing your best basketball, and I feel like we are."
Edwardsville's climb: Waldo said the Tigers have made gradual progress throughout the season.
"The biggest improvement we've shown in the last month is the fact that we've tried to get a good shot at the basket every trip down the floor," he said. "Garret and Tre' have done a good job shooting if they're open, but if they're not open, they're passing it.
"We're used to playing with each other now. Our guys have done a good job of trying to get better each day."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.