No. 2 Gonzaga gets All-Met guard Nate Britt, a North Carolina recruit, back in time for a key stretch of the Eagles’ WCAC schedule. (Jonathan Newton/WASHINGTON POST)

When guard Will Ferguson transferred from O’Connell to Herndon, the already-high expectations surrounding one of the Northern Region’s perennial basketball powers only grew.

Never mind that the Hornets still featured four sophomores — led by Dorian Johnson and DeAndre Thomas — the addition of Ferguson brought a belief that the Hornets might suddenly be the favorite in a region lacking a true front-runner.

After Ferguson hit a game-winning shot in his first game, the Hornets appeared primed to fulfill those hopes. Over the last few games, however, reality has set in as the team attempts to jell. Herndon has dropped three of its last five, including losses to Centreville and Chantilly last week.

“It’s really not our offense, we’re just not defending anybody,” Hornets Coach Chris Whelan said. “It’s a little frustrating, but at the end of the day it’s like playing with a JV team because they’re so young. We’ve got four sophomores playing a lot of minutes, and you get a lot of mistakes.”

Ferguson has added vocal leadership.

“It’s not really a problem,” Ferguson said of adjusting to a new team. “I know everybody on the court, but they have to know how I play and I have to know how they play. It’s coming along. We just got to get stops. We like to run and that’s how I like to play, but in the game we just have to get stops.”

On Saturday, Herndon spent all of practice working on its defense. Whelan said he took responsibility for allowing bad habits to remain unchanged early in the season.

“We don’t really have a base defense,” Ferguson said. “We had to learn a full defense. Our defense was all over the place. We were full court. Now we sit back on the three point line. We have a more organized defense now.”

The Hornets have given up 65 points per game over the last five games. Herndon closes out the regular season with games against region favorites Westfield, a team they lost to in double overtime on Jan. 19, and Robinson. Whelan said the new mindset has to take a hold before the start of the playoffs.

“We’re putting points on the board but you just cant exchange baskets,” Whelan said. “You gotta get stops. They need to take more pride in their defense and that’s what they’re going to do.”

Loudoun: Panthers up, down

One year after a last-second three-pointer propelled the Potomac Falls Panthers to a second consecutive Virginia AA Division 4 state championship, the team’s topsy-turvy run through the 2011-12 regular season might have players and fans in Sterling feeling a little nauseous.

Entering Saturday’s non-league matchup with Osbourn, the Panthers had lost three of four to fall out of title contention in the AA Dulles District. But all season, Coach Jeff Hawes has told his revamped young roster that it’s how they’re playing in February that matters most.

Saturday’s 62-59 victory at Osbourn is a nice place to start.

“This is where we’ve played our best ball the last two years. And I’ve told them there’s no reason we can’t play up to that level,” said Hawes whose teams are 21-0 after Feb. 1 over the past two seasons. “We’re really starting to come together at the right time.”

A key factor in the team’s postseason hopes will be the continued development of freshman Wanya Allen. The 6-foot-3 forward got off to a rocky start this season, but scored a career-high 17 points in Saturday’s win — Osbourn’s first defeat to an area team — to extend a stretch of six double-figure scoring efforts in seven games. His added production should take some pressure of star senior center Greg Graves (22 points, 14 rebounds per game).

“It took him a little while to get used to how much brighter the lights shine at this level, but he’s really picking things up,” Hawes said. “He’s got loads of ability, and we need him to continue to be a big factor for us.”

The Panthers (12-7, 8-5 Dulles) visit district-leading Briar Woods on Wednesday in a rematch of a 77-75 overtime loss on Jan. 25.. . .

Broad Run has found the transition to the AAA Cedar Run District to be quite a challenge, and their 5-5 league record reflects it.

But the change of scenery has done nothing to slow the production of star point guard Nigel Johnson.

On Friday night against Freedom-South Riding, the 6 foot 1 junior drained nine three-pointers and scored a career-high 38 points in a 75-57 rout. Johnson has been held below 20 points only one time all season and over his last four games is averaging 32 points and eight assists.

WCAC: Britt back

All-Met point guard Nate Britt of second-ranked Gonzaga returned to the court Saturday for the first time in nearly three weeks after suffering a hematoma in his bruised left calf.

Britt, a junior who has committed to play for North Carolina, scored 11 points and had five assists in eight minutes off the bench in a 75-48 victory over Bishop Ireton.

“That’s not bad,” Gonzaga Coach Steve Turner said. “We played a long stretch without the guy who leads our ship and we’re happy to have him back.”

Britt was injured in the Eagles’ 77-65 victory over Riverside of Reserve, La., in the HoopHall Classic in Springfield, Mass., on Jan. 14. He was kneed in the back of his calf and while he finished the game, internal bleeding prevented him from doing much of anything until the bleeding subsided other than stretching and having ultrasound treatments.

“That’s the only thing that speeds up the process,” Britt said.

With Britt sidelined, junior forward Kris Jenkins asserted himself as one of the Washington area’s top players. Britt returns at a key juncture in the schedule. After Tuesday’s game against O’Connell, Gonzaga (21-2, 10-2 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) plays Friday at third-ranked DeMatha and hosts top-ranked Paul VI Catholic on Sunday.

The plan is for Britt to come off the bench as he works his way back into form.

“Just working to get his stamina back,” Turner said. “Taking it easy and not pressing to get it back in one big swoop. There’s still a lot of the season to go and we want to have him healthy the rest of the way.”

DCIAA: Go West

Since a 67-65 loss to Vaux Roberts (Pa.) in early January, Spingarn Coach Keith Jackson made a switch. It was only the 17th-ranked Green Wave’s fifth loss in 15 games but he saw something in his sophomore guard Jerome West.

“He’s the best point guard on our team and is a good finisher,” Jackson said.

And since then, Spingarn (18-5, 10-0) has rattled off eight straight wins, debuted in the rankings and played confident basketball. And according to Jackson, this year’s team is better offensively than last winter’s 19-10 squad that reached the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association semifinals.

West has been a valuable addition for the Green Wave. The team’s leading-scorer (18.7 ppg) was scoring by the bunches at the start of the season but as cooled off some, as he has taken on the point guard duties after playing there occasionally.

West was at C.H. Flowers as a freshman but didn’t play because of grades. He spent the offseason at Friendship Collegiate before coming to Spingarn, moving in with family in the District.

The experienced Green Wave have also been powered of late by senior Eric Jones, a 6-foot-3 forward who is averaging 10 points per game.

“Eric Jones doesn’t get a lot of credit and plays great defense and is an excellent rebounder,” Jackson said.

Spingarn has rolled through the DCIAA East; it’s closest contest was a 73-70 win over Ballou two weeks ago. (The Green Wave’s biggest win of the season was a 75-66 win over 13th-ranked Coolidge.) With four games, Jackson wants his players to work on the one aspect of their play that hasn’t been as strong as last season:

“I’m hoping that our team can continue to improve defensively towards the end of the year. We want to play our best defense tournament time.”

Anne Arundel: Wildcats stay perfect

Arundel has finished second in Anne Arundel County in each of the previous four seasons, but the 13th-ranked Wildcats took a major step toward wrapping up an elusive county championship this weekend.

Sophomore guard Darien Bryant finished with 22 points Friday night and Arundel (17-0, 12-0) scored 21 of the last 22 points in a 65-46 win over Broadneck (13-5, 10-2).

That result coupled with Old Mill (12-6, 10-2) earning a 71-62 win over Glen Burnie (16-2, 10-2) gives Arundel a two-game cushion over those three teams with four county games to play.

“We thought we’d be in the mix, but to still be undefeated at this point of the season is an accomplishment,” Arundel Coach Jeff Starr said. “There’s not a lot of margin of error in this county, and we take each game with the approach that any game can put us back in the mix of fighting for second or third.”

Anne Arundel County is perennially known for its parity in the top half of the league, but the Wildcats have stayed ahead of the pack on the strength of their guard play.

Bryant — a transfer from St. John’s — has provided a spark for an otherwise veteran group and is averaging 14.6 points per game, and senior David Nicholson is a County Player of the Year candidate averaging 18.2 points per game and often guarding the opposition’s top player.

Nicholson was held scoreless in the first half against Broadneck on Friday, but he scored 11 points after halftime and helped Arundel pull away late.

“He’s a great all-around guard,” Starr said. “It’s not often a team has its leading scorer guard the other team’s leading scorer and still have him get his points.”

Arundel is 7-0 against teams that are .500 or better in the county, and the Wildcats are closing in on the top seed in the very tough Maryland 4A East region that contains nearly all of the Anne Arundel competitors and defending Maryland 4A champion North Point (16-2).

“We’re looking at the No. 1 seed in the region but that can all change,” Starr said. “There’s probably about six teams in our region that can come out of it. We’re on a good run right now, but come playoff time everybody is 0-0.”