LATTA — Latta boys coach Donnie Husband will be in the minority when Latta and Byng renew their rivalry Monday night.

But Husband, whose club — ranked No. 13 in Class 2A — manhandled a good Atoka club Tuesday night to improve to 11-5 this season, takes little solace in the fact that he will be the only one of the four coaches on the floor Monday whose team is coming off a win.

After all, this IS Latta-Byng.

“I wish Byng had played well and won the other night,” Husband said of the 8-5 Pirates, who were beaten, 51-45, at Konawa Friday. “Losing makes them that much more dangerous. It looked like they might have been looking ahead. They didn’t play very well, but I think they’ll make up for it Monday.”

In Monday’s girls game, the Lady Panthers — 10-6 on the season but just 2-2 since the Christmas break — will face a Byng club that has dropped seven of its last 10 — including a 74-56 loss Friday to a Konawa team the Lady Pirates handled with ease early in the season — to fall below .500 (6-7) for the first time since Joe Neely took over the program last season.

The Latta-Byng contests will help kick off a huge week for area basketball — a week that also includes three tournaments and Stratford’s home showdown Friday with sixth-ranked New Lima in a battle of Class A powers. In addition, ECU will begin Lone Star Conference North Division play at home Wednesday against Southwestern.

Ada’s girls and boys squads will compete in the Cougar Classic Thursday through Saturday, meeting teams from Durant, Ponca City and Madill, respectively, with the local teams playing at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. each night. Action at the Classic begins at 4 p.m. each day.

Also, boys and girls squads from Stonewall, Tupelo, Allen and Roff will compete with four other teams on each side of the bracket in the S.T.A.R. Tournament at Allen Monday through Saturday. Roff, 15-0 and ranked No. 5 in Class A, is the top seed in the boys bracket, while Stonewall, 17-1 and ranked No. 8 Class A, heads a rugged girls bracket that includes ranked teams from Tupelo and Allen. Action begins each day at 5 p.m.

Byng at Latta

While the Byng girls competed in the tough Mid-America Tournament Dec. 28-30, the Pirates and the Latta girls and boys squads took the holidays off after finishing the 2005 portion of the their respective schedules on the upswing. But all three had struggled in 2006 before the Panthers’ impressive 73-59 win over Atoka Tuesday.

Latta’s girls — 8-4 and ranked No. 18 in Class 2A before the break — and Byng’s boys — 6-3 with victories over both Latta and Tishomingo (No. 16 in 3A) before Christmas — are just 2-2 since the first of the year. Husband’s Panthers, meanwhile, lost two of their three games at the Lindsay Leopard Shootout before bouncing back Tuesday night.

“We played well Saturday against Linday, and they hit a shot at the end to beat us,” Husband said. “Tuesday night in a tough atmosphere, I thought our kids played a heck of a game. The guards played well, and we had a post presence.”

Latta guards Kolbie Brown and Trevan Jimboy combined for 25 points (18 by Brown) and 20 assists (12 from Jimboy), senior center Isaac Vandever finally had the breakout game Husband had been waiting for with 21 points and 16 rebounds, and forward Jeremi Correll added 16 points against Atoka, and Husband said he hopes that performance signaled the start of the same kind of late-season surge that carried the Panthers to the 2A state tournament last season.

“We’d all like to believe that we’re about to take off and play really well, but the jury’s still out,” Husband said. “Byng will be a major challenge.

“I think we’re ready to take off, but until we do it you can’t really tell,” he added. “I believe in our kids, and I believe they’ll find a way to get it done when it matters the most.”

In their last meeting, Byng upset the Panthers, 55-51, as Vandever and Correll both fouled out in the fourth quarter and Pirate sophomore center Caleb Timmons posted a double-double (15 points and 11 rebounds).

“We’ve got to keep Isaac and Jeremi on the floor so we can create some mismatches,” Husband said. “We have to make Caleb guard somebody. If we have both of them in there, it puts more pressure on him.”

In the girls’ game, Latta will try to regain the magic that carried the Lady Panthers to quality wins over Konawa, Byng and Stonewall before Christmas, while Byng will be looking for some consistency after losing two more starters — center Kara Byers and guard Ashley Carrethers — last week.

“Since the last time we played, there have been some changes on our team,” said Neely, whose club will join Konawa and Sulphur in the field for the Purcell Tournament Thursday through Saturday. “When they beat us last time, it was a stepping stone for them.

“They played well, and it gave them some confidence and kind of spring-boarded their run, and we went on a three-game losing streak after that game,” he added. “We hit rock bottom.”

Despite Latta’s recent struggles, Neely said the Lady Panthers — who feature one of the area’s best 1-2 punches in senior Chelsey Bennett and freshman Skyler Jenson — are capable of waking up with a big effort Monday.

“Even though they’ve lost a game or two, they’re really good,” he said. “They have the ingredients to be a really good team.

“I expect it to be a typical Latta-Byng game,” Neely added. “I expect it to be down to the wire, and we’re looking forward to going over there and playing.”

First-year Latta coach David Tinkler said he has been disappointed in his team defense since Christmas but added that he hasn’t been disappointed with his club’s effort over the last four games.

“We have to put more emphasis on playing better defensively, but the Atoka game (a 59-45 loss Tuesday) was the only game where I thought we didn’t compete,” Tinkler said. I wasn’t disappointed with the other three games at all.

“I look at Byng as just another team we have to go beat,” he added. “They play extremely hard, and Joe gets the maximum out of his kids.”