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Wolves prepping for playoff test

Girls basketball: Tualatin will host North Medford Friday in a second-round contest
by: DAN BROOD, UP FOR TWO — Tualatin senior Jen Gruss goes up to the basket in a game player earlier this season. The Wolves host North Medford in a playoff game Friday.

TUALATIN - All season now, the Tualatin High School girls basketball has focused on the task at hand. The Timberwolves have just taken things game-by-game.

But now the Wolves have turned their focus to the state playoffs - and a possible berth to the state tournament. And they're anxiously getting ready for that upcoming task.

'Oh yeah, we're ready,' Senior point guard Niki Paulson said following an intense practice Monday at Tualatin High School.

But, if by chance they weren't ready, the Wolves, who earned a bye in the first round of the state playoffs, is making sure this week that they get ready.

'This week we want to be strong and aggressive,' Tualatin senior wing Sam Child said. 'That's what this week is about.'

The Wolves hope all of that preparation pays off on Friday when they host North Medford in a Class 6A state playoff second-round game slated to start at 7 p.m. at Tualatin High School. The winner of Friday's game at Tualatin will advance to the Class 6A state tournament, which starts Wednesday at the University of Portland Chiles Center.

Tualatin will be looking to earn a state-tournament berth for the third straight year.

'This our (the seniors') last year, getting to play there means a lot,' Tualatin senior wing Jen Gruss said.

Tualatin, the Pacific Conference champion, enters Friday's game with an overall record of 22-2. The Wolves also are carrying a 16-game winning streak into the postseason contest.

But they're not taking anything for granted as they prepare this week.

'We want to work toward a peak,' Tualatin coach Todd Jukkala said on Monday. 'Our intensity was very good today. We're trying to get back to basics. As the week goes on, we'll get more specific. We want to make sure that we play our game.

'The table is set, now we just have to be prepared,' Jukkala said. 'The girls have worked hard for this. We have to play our game, that's what we're going to talk about all week.'

North Medford, the No. 2 team out of the Southwest Conference, is 21-5 on the season following its 61-26 win over Barlow in a first-round state playoff game held Tuesday at North Medford High School.

That win was the Black Tornado's 11th victory in the past 12 games.

'They're long at every position,' Jukkala said of the North Medford girls. 'They have a bunch of good, tall kids. They do a good job on defense and they cover a lot of ground.'

Among the top players for North Medford is 5-foot-11 junior post Erica Schultz, who is one of two Black Tornado players to earn all-Southwest Conference first-team honors. For the season, Schultz took a 12.5 scoring average into the playoff game with Barlow.

North Medford senior wing Megan Ross (5-10), who also was a first-team all-league pick, is scoring at an 11.5 clip. Senior post Lauren Berger (6-2), who was a second-team all-league pick, has an 8.1 scoring average while junior wing Whitney Hodnett (5-11), an honorable mention all-league pick, has an 8.3 scoring average.

For Tualatin, Child, the Pacific Conference Player of the Year, leads the offensive attack. The 6-0 senior wing takes a 19.5 scoring average into Friday's game. Gruss, a sharp-shooting wing who earned first-team all-league honors, has a 13.0 average.

But the Timberwolf scoring doesn't stop with those two. Players such as Paulson, senior Lindsey Wilcox (who has a 7.9 scoring average), junior post Janelle Cromie, sophomore post Kelly Millager, junior post Jessica Meteer and sophomore guard Madeline Houston are all capable of filling up the basket.

And, as has been the case all year, the Wolves will be looking to play at their up-tempo style of play Friday night.

'If we do our thing, we'll be OK,' Gruss said.

'We just need to come out and play our game,' Paulson added.

'We need to play Tualatin basketball - play like a team,' Child said.

Child also recently received some inspiration from former Timberwolf guard Katie Foiles.

'She sent me a message, about our motto from a couple years ago - `Pure heart, no stars,'' Child said.

One other thing the Timberwolves have going for them is their home-court advantage. Tualatin has not lost at home since it fell to Lake Oswego in a state playoff game back on Feb. 28, 2004. Since then, the Wolves have won 34 straight games on their home court.

'Hopefully, we'll have a great crowd,' Paulson said.

'We're definitely excited,' senior post Tauna Soderquist said.

The winner of Friday's game at Tualatin will meet either Jesuit or Clackamas in a state-tournament quarterfinal game starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Chiles Center.

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Notes: Tualatin finished its regular season schedule Friday with a 71-42 win at McMinnville. Millager scored 14 points for the Wolves in the win and Paulson added 13 points.

Tualatin and North Medford last met at the 2005 Class 4A state tournament with the Timberwolves winning 71-56.