Revamped Wildcats shut down Sheldon
The full scale, wide-ranging reconstruction job many believed to be the Westview boys basketball season might not be more than a quick fix.
The new-look Wildcats — who lost eight of their nine key rotational players off last year's Class 6A state tournament team, many of whom played consecutive seasons at the state tourney — are proving to be much tougher, much more up to speed than originally believed.
Taking on a Sheldon team that made the state semis just two years ago, Westview not only overcame a 17-7 second-quarter deficit but took a double-digit lead with a defensively dominant final 16 minutes of play to win it 51-42. Less than 24 hours after getting drubbed by Tigard, the Wildcats rebounded in the consolation bracket at the Bill Gabel Invitational at Tigard High School on Dec. 20 against an Irish that has a rich history and tradition of stellar teams.
"These past few games we've been punched in the mouth in the second half and I feel like we turned that around today," Westview junior guard Kobe Newton said. "That was a big, big reason why we got the 'W.' We ... just took that fire, that pain and used it in this game. We played hard, we boxed out. Sheldon has some good kids, some good athletes. We kept them off of the boards. We struggle with coming out slow and that needs to change, but we did a good job in the second half."
Five Westview players scored at least eight points, including the sharpshooting Shasank Bonthala, who had a team-high 17 including four three-pointers. A senior who played in spot duty last year as Westview won 22 games and took second in the Metro League last winter, Bonthala got a bulk of the minutes along the wing against Sheldon and buried a bounty of good looks from deep. He knows Westview is still a ways away from being a conference force, but shedding Sheldon was a positive sign.
"This is huge for our confidence," Bonthala said. "We've been kind of inconsistent and this is just another forward step in our path to be the team we want to be, challenging Southridge and Jesuit up in the Metro League. It's going to take time to gel, but wins like this are really going to help us in gaining that experience we need."
Newton's unselfish passing and quick decision making helped cobble together a game-high six assists. Senior posts Jack Poling and Matthew White, both of whom are taller than 6-foot-6, combined for 16 points and 10 boards. And sophomore Wayne Jamison was a huge boost off of the bench, chipping in 12 points on five field goals, two of which were from three-point land.
Whereas Westview was built around stars such as Said Ali and Mason Elliott in the past, Newton said the Wildcats want to strike more of a balance, like they did against Sheldon. And Newton wants everyone to know all is not lost, that Westview is still Westview.
"With (Ali) and (Elliott) graduating, a lot of people think 'Well, there goes Westview's basketball program right there,'" Newton said. "Last year was kind of a two-man show, but this year it's going to be a team effort and we showed that tonight. We played well individually and as a team. The chemistry will gel and we'll surprise some people."
From the second quarter on, Westview's defensive intensity and effort picked up at full tilt. From the seven-minute mark in the second quarter through the final buzzer, the Wildcats limited Sheldon to just 25 points with a mix of chest-to-chest man-to-man defense, run-and-jump traps with a little bit of zone sprinkled in. Wolf has a stat called "three bangers," which means getting three straight defensive stops on three straight possessions. In the first quarter, Westview didn't have any. But the rest of the way the Wildcats wove together five different "three bangers," which not only stoned Sheldon but opened up the offense for Westview to get out, run and play free flowingly on the offensive end.
"Our defense really sparks our offense," Bonthala said. "We got wide open looks when we ran the break. We hit a couple of shots in the second quarter and got our confidence back. And once one shot starts falling, we usually start hitting. We have a lot of shooters, a lot of depth."
Westview was down 17-7 in the early stages of the second quarter, but tightened the screws defensively, holding Sheldon to a single field goal over the final seven minutes of play. Meanwhile, the Wildcats ball and player movement picked up with Newton piloting the offense with heady ball reversals, hit aheads and outlets that came after Westview got stops and cleared the defensive glass. Bonthala scored seven second-quarter points including two threes, neither of which hit the rim on their descent through the net.
In the second half, Poling and White pounded Sheldon inside, using their height and strength to power home putbacks and short jump hooks in the paint. Newton hit a pair of third-quarter threes and Jamison scored eight second-half points while playing lockdown perimeter defense.
There's been an air of unfamiliarity with the Wildcats, seeing that head coach Mike Wolf is in his first season at the helm and Westview doesn't have the same familiar faces floating around the floor as it once did. That's acceptable with the Wildcats. Since a rocky 0-2 start, Westview tested Southridge, the prohibitive Metro League favorite, before falling 78-68 and has won five of its last seven games. If anything, Westview is ahead of schedule when it comes to adjusting to Wolf's coaching style and assimilating themselves to each other's games on the hardwood.
"A lot of people don't think we're going to be very good this year, but I think we're gonna surprise some people," Newton said. "We battled with Southridge, who's a top-tier team in the state and if we come out with that fire and take it to another level, I think we can beat a lot of teams and we can be a good team, we just have to stay consistent."