Going into the last week of the 7A-Central competition, the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats knew they had at least a share of the conference title and the number one seed locked up. By the time the week was finished, they were the undisputed conference champions heading into the 7A state tournament this week at North Little Rock.

As the week started, the Wildcats (23-5) and Fort Smith Northside (20-9) both had two conference losses. However, the Grizzlies suffered two setbacks last week to Cabot and Fort Smith Southside as UA signee Isaiah Joe didn’t play because of a knee injury. Meanwhile, the Wildcats ended the regular season with victories over Bryant (66-46) and Cabot (68-45).

“One of our goals is to win the conference championship, and we are excited about that,” North Little Rock Coach Johnny Rice said. “We’ve won five in a row and played well last week. We are starting to play well in the third and fourth quarters.”

That is significant as the Wildcats have given up huge leads in the past. In their last matchup with Little Rock Central, they were ahead 41-24 at the half and 52-42 after three quarters before winning 62-60.

“We have been working really hard on how to play with a lead,” Rice said. “I hope we get an opportunity to work on hanging on to a lead.”

The Wildcats begin their quest for a state title Friday at 5:30 p.m. They play the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between Fort Smith Southside and Bentonville West. Conway (17-10), who handed North Little Rock three of its losses, is on the Wildcats’ side of the bracket. The Wampus Cats defeated North Little Rock twice during the conference season and once in its tournament in December.

Sophomore Moses Moody is North Little Rock’s leading scorer and averaging 18 points a game. Junior Collin Moore averages 15 points a game, and Rice noted the play of senior Ray Fresh, who scored 17 points against Cabot.

“Moses has scored 30 points in game a few times,” Rice said. “It’s big for a sophomore to step up like that, and he been a surprise. It took a while, but Collin is starting to come along after having the flu. Ray does so many things that show up in the stats, and he defends the other teams’ best player.”