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Lakers lose states No. 1 ranking

by: Vern Uyetake, Bodies and arms were flailing last Friday night as Lake Oswego took on South Medford in the semifinals of the Les Schwab Invitational. It was a physical game as both the Lakers’ Kevin Love, center, and South Medford’s Kyle Singler, right, were in foul trouble. The Panthers won the game 71-63, knocking Lake Oswego from the state’s No. 1 ranking.

Say goodbye to the No. 1 ranking in the state and a long unbeaten streak that dated all the way back to last year's preseason. Both of those lofty achievements disappeared last weekend when the defending state champion Lake Oswego boys basketball team lost to South Medford last Friday at the Les Schwab Invitational.

But the Lakers don't care about any of that, at least not at this point in the season. They're only worried about getting better with each successive game and then redeeming themselves at the state tournament in March.

'Even though we lost, we don't dread playing them again,' Lake Oswego coach Mark Shoff said after his team's 71-63 loss to South Medford last Friday.

Even though Oak Hill Academy, the nation's top-ranked team, was also entered in the Schwab tournament, the Lake Oswego-South Medford semifinal game was billed as the tournament's marquee match-up. In fact, that contest drew a bigger crowd than the Oak Hill-South Medford championship contest did the following night.

But it wasn't just the match-up between the defending state champion and last year's runner-up that had people talking. Many of the fans came to see Lake Oswego's Kevin Love play against South Medford's Kyle Singler - who are regarded by many as two of the top four high school players in the nation.

Unfortunately, the fans didn't get to see Love and Singler play very much against each other. Some tough foul calls and some unusual no-calls (against each player) ended up taking a lot away from the game.

Shoff must have figured his team was in for a long night after seeing a bizarre no-call early in the game. It came when Love faked Singler off his feet with a nice inside move. Singler wound up landing on Love's back, which should have been an obvious foul, but no call was made.

Then, midway through the second quarter, Love picked up his third foul of the night on a rebounding play where he appeared to touch no one. That sent the Lakers' center to the bench for the rest of the first half.

'It was very frustrating,' Love said later in response to the calls. 'But I'm not going to say anything about the officiating because I want to be a high-class guy and represent my team and my community well.'

Lake Oswego had a 25-22 lead at that point, thanks partly to back-to-back three-pointers by Lake Oswego's Ernie Spada and then another one by teammate Kyle Lavender.

But, with Love on the bench and Singler still playing, South Medford was able to take a 31-28 lead into the locker room at halftime.

In the third quarter, the officials seemed determined to even things up a little and Singler was the recipient of a couple of tough foul calls. He already had four fouls on him when he went to the bench with four minutes left in the third quarter. But South Medford, which is now ranked No. 1, led 39-35 at the time.

Love then began to dominate the game while Singler sat on the bench. The Lakers' big guy scored his team's next 11 points, but the Panthers managed to answer every one of those baskets.

The key for the Panthers was the play of junior guard Michael Harthun, who had a second-half shooting streak that was almost hard to believe. He made shots with a defender draped all over him. He made shots with two defenders on him and he made shots while falling backwards. About the only shot he didn't try was one with a blindfold on, but he probably could have made one of those as well.

After going scoreless in the first quarter, Harthun finished with 24 points on 10 of 19 shooting. He hit 4 of 8 three-pointers.

'We defended him the best we could. But he hit some shots with defenders in his face,' Love said of Harthun's play.

Despite Harthun's shooting exploits, the Lakers were still in the game when Singler returned to action. The South Medford ace then scored six points down the stretch while the Lakers went cold near the end.

Considering the circumstances, Shoff hardly seemed concerned that his team lost a crucial game by eight points.

'I thought (South Medford) played a great game and we did not,' Shoff said. 'And we went 7 for 15 at the free-throw line. We can't be missing the front ends of one-and-ones….

'And Kevin wasn't himself. He was nowhere near where he's going to be.'

For the record, Love still had a good night, scoring a game-high 27 points. But he shot less than 50 percent (hitting 11 of 23 attempts), which is a rare occurrence. Plus, the nine rebounds he grabbed were well below his season average, and he was only credited with one block and no assists.

But it wasn't the best of nights for Singler, either. Because of foul trouble, he was limited to 16 points on 4 of 9 shooting.

That loss to South Medford knocked the Lakers into the third-place game against Westview on Saturday. The Wildcats entered the game ranked No. 3 in the state, but once again fans seemed to be more interested in the individual match-up between Love and Westview's 6-foot-11 center, Andy Poling.

The match-up, though, never really lived up to its billing as Love dominated throughout. Love finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds while Poling was limited to eight points (on 4 of 14 shooting) and two rebounds.

'I thought Kevin did a great job on Poling,' Shoff said. 'He sort of dominated.'

Love scored 16 of his points in the first half, and he got just enough help from his teammates as the Lakers posted a 24-16 halftime lead. Lake Oswego gradually began to pull away in the third period when Taylor Marr hit a pair of three-pointers, which were sandwiched around a three-point play by Spada.

And the lead kept growing from there. When Love threw down a dunk on Poling five minutes into the final period, Lake Oswego had a 53-32 lead, which prompted both coaches to empty their benches.