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Top-ranked LO boys set to defend title

The targets on the backs of the Lake Oswego players seem to be getting bigger by the week. But coach Mark Shoff still likes his team's chances for winning a second consecutive state championship.

'I like this team a lot,' Shoff said earlier this week as his squad prepared for Saturday's playoff opener. 'I think if they continue to play defense and play together as a team, they could go a long ways.'

The Lakers (23-1 overall) enter the playoffs as the state's top-ranked team. Their only loss came against No. 2 South Medford at the Les Schwab Invitational, but that only partially avenged last year's loss to Lake Oswego in the state title game. If the Lakers can hold off the Panthers, and all of the other pursuers once again, it would make Lake Oswego the state's first back-to-back champion at the top level in approximately 30 years.

But Shoff and his players are trying not to think about things like that right now.

'Everyone is 0-0 right now … and there's always upsets in the playoffs,' Shoff said. 'So you don't want to overlook anyone.'

But the Lakers had such an easy time through much of the season it's conceivable that they could be slightly over-confident heading into the playoffs. For the full season, they beat everyone by an average of 26 points per game. In league play, they had a 31-point margin over their opponents. And the gap could have been even bigger, but Shoff often sat his starters down for the fourth quarter of most of those games.

Maybe the best aspect of this year's team is the vast playoff experience among the top players. Three-time TRL player of the year Kevin Love has been a starter since the first game of his freshman season and senior guard Ernie Spada earned his full-time starting assignment midway through his first season. Plus, Taylor Marr and Elliot Babcock-Krenk both saw ample playing time throughout last year's state championship run.

So, no one seems too intimidated when the Lakers play the elite teams. A good example came recently when Lake Oswego traveled to southern California and beat Mater Dei, which, according to USA Today, was the top-ranked team on the West Coast.

'I don't think the (state tournament) environment is going to scare us,' Shoff said.

Another plus is the 6-foot-10 Love has been virtually unstoppable when he gets the ball inside. Lately, he's been playing the best basketball of his life. In last Thursday's regular season finale against West Linn, Love had 37 points and 25 rebounds - numbers which are becoming almost commonplace for him.

As a team, the Lakers were seemingly on auto pilot during the final stretches of the regular season. And there was virtually no celebration when the team wrapped the league title after beating Oregon City last week. The players were already beginning to turn their focus to the bigger picture, Shoff said.

Yet, there might be some concern that Lake Oswego could be a little rusty in the early stages of Saturday's playoff game. Because of the bye Lake Oswego received in the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers will by coming off a nine-day layoff heading into Saturday's game.

'Being rusty … I think that's the only thing we have to avoid,' Shoff said.

While the players were shaking off some of that rust earlier this week, the league's coaches were all meeting to vote on the TRL all-star squads. Amazingly, the Lakers landed just two players on the two teams.

Of course, Love was the top vote-getter and was once again the league's player of the year. Spada received the third highest vote total and easily secured a spot on the first team. But no one else for Lake Oswego received more than honorable mention.

Shoff seemed disappointed that Marr, Babcock-Krenk and Landon Ainge were all largely overlooked. However, the coach refused to comment on the record. He'd prefer to let those players make a case for themselves at the tournament.