It seems that basketball begins to resemble a track meet whenever the Tualatin girls team plays. And the Lakeridge girls found out Tuesday night how difficult it can be to keep pace for the entire race.
The Pacers actually did an excellent job of keeping up for two and a half periods. In fact, Lakeridge led the game by one point at that stage. Then, Lakeridge slowly begin to wither under the kind of relentless full-court defensive pressure that has made Tualatin one of the toughest teams in the state over the last five or six years.
By the time the Pacers finally caught their breath, Tualatin had turned a close game into a 77-55 rout.
'You try to keep the pace for a while, and then you either run out of gas or you beat them if you have better horses than they do,' Lakeridge coach Mike Melin said afterward.
There's no arguing that the Timberwolves are fast, well-conditioned and very adept at applying defensive pressure at just the right time. But they also have a good collection of skilled players who can score from virtually anywhere on the floor. After seeing the way they dismantled a pesky Lakeridge team in the second half, it's easy to see why the Wolves are ranked sixth in the state.
The Pacers (2-3) hurt their own cause by turning the ball over 30 times. Amazingly, 20 of those turnovers came in the first half, 'and we were still close,' Melin noted.
'So, the real key is having enough poise down the stretch to take care of the basketball,' the coach continued.
It would also help to have more experience playing against the kind of defensive pressure that Tualatin brings. Most teams never see anything like that in practice, or even in games.
'Something like what we saw tonight, you just can't simulate in practice,' Melin said. 'You can talk about what's going to take place, but to actually see it in the preseason is going to make us better.'
For a while, Lakeridge managed to give the Timberwolves all they could handle. After a slow start, the Pacers caught fire and reeled off 11 straight points during a 90-second stretch that gave Lakeridge a 14-7 lead midway through the opening. Kai Schmidt capped the run with a long jumper and a three-pointer.
But Tualatin didn't stay down for long, thanks to Jen Gruss' one-minute span where she scored all seven of her points for the night. Moments later, Niki Paulson hit a three and the Wolves had the lead back at 17-16.
But Lakeridge led 18-17 when senior forward Mackenzie Jank converted a lay-up as the opening period expired.
The second quarter see-sawed back and forth with neither team holding more than a four-point lead. That quarter included a pair of threes by Schmidt. She finished the game with four and a team-high 16 points. In addition, junior post Kiersten McNairy hit back-to-back inside shots, which put the Pacers ahead 25-24.
But Tualatin took a 35-32 lead into the locker room at halftime, thanks to a couple of key turnovers by Lakeridge in the final minute of the half.
Things were really looking up for the Pacers early in the third quarter, especially when the Wolves went scoreless for almost the first three minutes of the period. During that time, Lakeridge got a pair of free throws from Amanda Huck and Schmidt's final three-pointer of the game. Unfortunately, it also turned out to be Schmidt's last basket of the game.
Tualatin then came back with seven straight points to take a 42-37 lead, but Lakeridge answered right back with a three-point play by Huck and a three-pointer by Huck, who finished the night with 15 points. That gave the Pacers their last lead of the game at 43-42.
The rest of the night, though, belonged to Tualatin, especially the next five minutes. During that span, the Wolves outscored Lakeridge 21-3, which turned a close game into a 63-46 blowout.
After that, the Pacers perked up a little bit with baskets by Kirah Aldinger-Gibson, Coutney Bird, Catherine Bergeron and Ally Knecht. By then, though, the damage had already been done.
Melin said he was surprised how easily the game got away from his team, but he was not displeased with the effort his players gave.
'We have to understand what it is that we want to do, and we have to execute,' the coach said. 'And they got us playing their game.'
It's the kind of game that few teams in the state can handle. It was easy to see how the Pacers became rattled after a while.
'It's continuance and constant pressure,' the coach noted. 'And then it turns into a game that they really control, based on pace.'
Despite being frustrated at times with his team's play, Melin is far from being discouraged.
'We've got some of the best kids I've ever been around … But we have to have these kind of games to make ourselves better … So, this is good for us. It's just going to be kind of painful in the process.'