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Keeping it basic

Coach Lowenbach emphasizes the play that brought the Cowboys to the Class 5A state playoffs

by: ANDREW MATHESON/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The Crook County Cowboys basketball team work on their fundamentals prior to tonight’s game against the West Albany Bulldogs.

After a made free throw, Mike Gould took the ball out of bounds with nine seconds left.
   The senior guard dribbled the length of the court, weaving in and out of defenders, and drove into the lane as his opponents collapsed around him.
   Gould then stopped and made a bounce pass to an open David Reeher under the net. The 6-foot-8-inch junior went up, uncontested, and banked in a shot off the glass as the buzzer sounded.
   While it was only Monday night's basketball practice, the Crook County Cowboys were preparing for anything and everything in their final warmup for tonight's first round playoff game at West Albany.
   "We just want to know what to do if we're up by two (points) or down by two," Gould said. Added teammate Richard Combee, "We're just preparing for whatever they're going to throw at us."
   Tonight, Tuesday, the Cowboys will enter the Class 5A Boys Basketball State Championships as the No. 4-seed from the Intermountain Conference. It is the first time in school history that the basketball program has qualified for the state playoffs two years in a row, and only the fourth time in 59 years that they've qualified for the postseason.
   Their opponent will be the West Albany Bulldogs, the No. 3-seed from the Mid-Willamette Conference, and as described by the Crook County players, "a bigger Bend."
   "They're a lot like Bend, just more skilled," Combee said. "They run basically the same kind of stuff as Bend."
   Cowboys Coach Jeff Lowenbach has seen game film from two games of West Albany: a 72-53 loss to the Hermiston Bulldogs on Dec. 16, and a 63-43 win over South Albany last Thursday. However defensively, with West Albany running a man-to-man defense against Hermiston, and a zone defense against South Albany, it is difficult to say what the Cowboys' offense will witness on Tuesday night.
   "They're a big team," Lowenbach said. "All of their starting lineup is over 6-foot, probably over 6'2". So they're a bigger squad than what we've faced before."
   Leading the way for West Albany is 6'6" post player Curtis Denos, who is averaging 15.7 points per game, the second most in the MWC, according to OregonLive.com.
   "He's pretty athletic and he can shoot the ball," Lowenbach said. The coach added that he'll most likely use a combination of Reeher and Daniel Teater to guard Denos, but he isn't sure of who'll be guarding Reeher. While it could be Denos, Lowenbach said that West Albany has some "big, football-looking" players that could defend Reeher, the leading scorer in the IMC.
   "They have a pretty good post," Reeher said. "I guess I'll just have to work on that."
   The Cowboys, whose final regular season game was last Thursday, have had three practices to focus on West Albany. Not looking to implement anything new, the Cowboys are simply polishing what got them to the playoffs in the first place.
   "We're not doing anything fancy or anything crazy," Lowenbach said. "We're going to go in and play Cowboy basketball, especially without seeing them live - you need to be more concerned about things that you do rather than things that they do. So for the last three practices, we've been focusing on the things that we do."
   At the end of practice on Monday night, Lowenbach told his players, who were huddled up at center court, that he wants them to play, among other times, like they did most recently at Madras. The Cowboys defeated Madras, the No. 3-seed from the IMC, 76-54 in front of a raucous, hostile Madras crowd on Feb. 16. With that, and with last year's 65-45 playoff loss at Tualatin, Lowenbach feels his team is ready for the playoff atmosphere that they'll most likely see in West Albany.
   "We kind of know what to expect now when we get there," Combee said in comparison to last year. Said Gould, "We can't take them too lightly."
   Gould added that the Cowboys came together as a team at Madras, while Lowenbach is hoping, to some degree, that West Albany thinks they're a one-man team that is built around Reeher.
   "That's actually not the case," Lowenbach said. "David (Reeher) gets a lot of points, but then it's two guys who'll step up and score double-digits. But we're going to need to have a full-team effort."
   While the Cowboys made history as the first Crook County boys basketball squad to qualify for the state playoffs two years in a row, they'll look to make more history tonight to become the first Cowboys team to win a playoff game.
   "We're trying to make it to the next round of the playoffs," Gould said.
   "We want to keep going deeper into the playoffs and make it to Mac Court," said Combee, referencing McArthur Court in Eugene where the top eight teams left in the playoffs will square off. "That would be a huge step for the program for now, and for years to come."
   While West Albany is no doubt an easier opponent that last year's Tualatin, who were winners of 18 of their last 19 games and were ranked No. 7 in the state, Lowenbach wants his team to take it one game at a time.
   "The individual stuff and the record stuff is nice, but our ultimate goal is to make it to Mac Court and be one of those final eight teams," Lowenbach said. "I'm sure the guys are proud of what they've accomplished, but I keep telling them, it's not over. There are more games to win."