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Jesuit shoots for three

Jesuit beats Westview for a second straight year, wins a third straight title
by: Miles Vance THE BEST — Jesuit senior Kyle Wiltjer and the Crusaders soared to a third straight Class 6A state title on Saturday.

PORTLAND - The first time was amazing. The second time incredible.

But Jesuit's third straight Class 6A boys basketball state championship - which came with the Crusaders' 60-46 victory over Westview on Saturday at the Rose Garden - was unprecedented.

With its win, Jesuit became the first team in Oregon history to win three straight large-school titles, in the process surpassing a number of Oregon two-time champions including Danny Ainge's North Eugene clubs in 1976-77, and Richard Washington's Benson squads in 1973-74.

'It's a great way to go out,' said Jesuit senior post Kyle Wiltjer, a unanimous first-team all-tournament pick who scored 13 points and had five rebounds against Westview. 'We really had to fight for this one, so this one feels sweet.'

'It feels great. Third in a row,' said Jesuit senior wing Jordan Akwenuke, a first-team all-tournament selection who scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the championship. 'It feels just as great as the first. It's great going out this way.'

'It's unbelievable, but it's bittersweet at the same time,' said Jesuit senior guard Jack Grodahl, another first-team all-tournament selection who went for 13 points and 11 rebounds in the win. 'I've had so much fun these last three years, it's kind of sad it's coming to an end.'

The win capped Metro League champion Jesuit's historic 2010-11 season at 26-2, its only two losses coming to Les Schwab Invitational champion DeMatha and to Metro foe Aloha in a game Wiltjer missed due to injury.

Westview, meanwhile, ended its year at 21-6 after finishing second in the Metro League and second in the state for the second year in a row. While obviously disappointed with its second straight title-game loss, the Wildcats left proud of their incredible two-year run of success.

'Ever since the last game last year, we said 'We're going to win state this year. We're taking over,'' said Westview senior post Austin Kuemper, a first-team all-tournament pick who scored a game-high 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the loss. 'We got here. We didn't finish it, but we got here.'

'A lot of people doubted us and didn't think we were going to get here, but we did,' said senior point guard Miles Gatewood, a second-team all-tourney pick, who had 10 points, two assists and three steals in the title game. 'I thought we could have won this, but it just didn't happen.'

'Unfortunately, we've seen Jesuit with two really good teams in the last two years,' added Westview coach Pat Coons. 'We've had two good teams and they've had two good teams, and we've just come up a little bit short.'

Unlike last year's title contest, which saw Jesuit race out to a big first-quarter lead and never allow the Wildcats closer than 11 points in the second half, it was Westview that held the upper hand in the first half of Saturday's championship.

The two teams traded shots throughout the first quarter with Wiltjer scoring three points to push his team ahead 9-8, but Westview took over in the second frame.

There, Jesuit stretched its lead to 13-8 when Kyle Milligan scored on a short bank shot with 5 minutes, 39 seconds left before the half, but the Wildcats posted a 17-6 edge in the final 5:21 to push in front. Malcolm Jackson got that run started with a short jumpshot, Keon Burns followed with a three-pointer that tied it at 13-13, Kuemper scored back-to-back buckets (the first on a putback of a Gatewood miss, the second on a fast break), Dyrall Goods hit from the left baseline, and Goods and Phil Belding knocked down three-pointers in the final 1:19 of the half to provide a 25-19 edge at the break.

'Give all the credit to Westview. They're a great team,' said Jesuit senior guard Ryan Benson, who had 10 points and three assists in the win. 'Any team you play like that, it's going to be tough.'

'Westview pushed us. We didn't come out ready,' Milligan said. 'We didn't come out with that edge.'

Jesuit tried to rally at the start of the third quarter and got 'threes' from both Khyan Rayner and Benson, but the Cats hung tough and kept the Crusaders at arm's length. Kuemper scored six points in just over two minutes, Goods made a steal and scored on a breakaway, and when Goods knocked down a three-pointer with 3:41 to go in the period, the lead was still six points at 35-29.

But the Crusaders weren't about to let their chance at a historic third straight title slip away. They closed the quarter on a 13-0 run over the final 2:40, that stretch including three Grodahl baskets (two of them on putbacks), a putback by Akwenuke, an inside hoop from Wiltjer, a steal and break by Xavier Coleman, and a Milligan foul shot.

By the time the third quarter finally came to a close, Jesuit had grabbed a 42-35 lead, and just as importantly, the momentum.

Grodahl 'just kind of went off on us with the rebounds, and (Akwenuke) kept getting putbacks too,' Gatewood said.

'We kind of let (Grodahl) go in and get rebounds and get inside,' Jackson said. 'That hurt us.'

'We knew Jesuit would come' back, Coons said. 'You knew they were going to make a run and we needed to respond to the run. We just didn't.'

Jesuit didn't stop there either. The Crusaders strung together an 8-4 run at the start of the fourth, extended their lead to 50-39 with 3:23 to go, and never let the Wildcats get closer than nine points the rest of the way.

Gatewood opened the fourth with a three-point play, but Akwenuke responded with a driving hoop, Wiltjer scored on the fast break assisted by Coleman, Wiltjer scored over Kuemper in the lane, and after a Gatewood free throw, Wiltjer scored again to make it 50-39.

Gatewood took a Belding pass and hit a layin to make it 50-41 with 2:43 left, but Akwenuke scored inside again, and Benson took a Wiltjer pass and scored on a reverse to put the game out of reach at 54-41 with 1:15 remaining.

'Westview definitely came out firing, hitting their shots, but we hunkered down the second half,' Akwenuke said. 'We got some defensive stops and we went on a little run. We knew what we had to change, and luckily, we changed it. It feels great.'

'Down six at halftime, we really had to show our character and fight for this one,' Wiltjer said. 'I'm just so proud of our guys for being able to step up in the second half and go out like this.'

'Experience was definitely on our side in that second half. We didn't press the panic button,' Grodahl added. 'We just kept with our game plan, trusted coach Potter, and it was a great way to go out.'

Westview, meanwhile, gave credit to Jesuit while simultaneously celebrating another incredibly successful season.

'Things don't always happen the way you want them, but you always learn from it and it makes you a better person,' Kuemper said.

'It was a really fun year,' Gatewood said. 'It was really hard losing everyone from last year, but honestly, I thought we were a better team this year.'

'One thing about this group, we were really close,' Jackson added. 'We had an identity of our own. We didn't want to be put in the same category with last year's team. We wanted to come out and be ourselves and we did.'