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Girls struggle early against Canby but find way to state

by: Vern Uyetake,

Of all the teams the Lake Oswego girls could have faced in the second round of the state playoffs, Canby was probably the most problematic.

To many people, such a claim might have seemed unlikely since Canby won only slightly more than half of its regular-season games. But the Cougars featured two of the state's top 10 scorers, and the team is led by former Lakeridge coach Heather Roberts, who probably knows Lake Oswego better than any other coach in the state.

So, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that Canby came into last Saturday's game fired up and determined to advance to the state tournament. In fact, the pesky Cougars held the lead five times in the first 20 minutes and they did it by forcing Lake Oswego to play a more deliberate style tempo than the Lakers are used to.

By the end, though, the Lakers were able to count on all of the factors that got them to this point - their depth, their team speed and some very stingy defense - to register a 50-38 victory over the Cougars.

'We knew they were going to be scrappy, and they were going to fight and scratch and claw,' Lake Oswego coach Jason Fawcett said after the game.

But the second-ranked Lakers (23-3) almost got more than they bargained for. It didn't help that Lake Oswego had trouble converting many of its early opportunities, especially from close range.

After scoring early in the game, Lake Oswego then went approximately five minutes without scoring again. Fortunately for the Lakers, Canby didn't exactly light up the scoreboard in that first quarter, either, and Lake Oswego had a meager 9-8 lead after the first eight minutes.

'We didn't finish at the rim early,' Fawcett noted. 'Maybe we were not used to so much contact not being called. It took a little while to adjust.'

It didn't help that Lake Oswego got into early foul trouble. Guards Ali Lomax, Sarah Griffin and Jill Shoquist all had to spend substantial amounts of time on the bench in the early going. That meant that Avery Lee, who normally plays wing, had to run the offense for a while and she did a very capable job.

Meanwhile, Canby was able to take advantage of Lake Oswego's difficult start by taking leads of 14-11 and 16-14 early in the second quarter. The Cougars were playing with so much confidence by then that they acted as though they couldn't lose.

'Yeah, I always think my teams are going to win,' Roberts would say later. 'The toughest thing I had to face at Canby was getting them to believe that they were winners as opposed to 'I hope we don't lose.''

The Cougars never really stopped believing in themselves, but their refusal to back down might have snapped the Lakers out of their doldrums. Lake Oswego then responded with an impressive run over the last four minutes of the second quarter to take a 26-22 lead into the locker room at intermission.

'I think we came out in kind of a funk (in the first quarter),' said Lake Oswego forward Margaret Johnson, who led all scorers with 18 points. 'I think were a little antsy … but we just had to get into our offense.'

That funk returned at the start of the third quarter, though. In fact, Lake Oswego was scoreless for approximately the first four minutes of the period, and Canby scored six points during that span to take a 28-26 lead.

'I thought we handled their press really well. And I thought we did a lot of really good things,' Roberts said of her team's effort to that point.

However, that 28-26 lead would be Canby's last. The next eight minutes would be the difference in the game as Lake Oswego reeled off 14 unanswered points to jump in front 40-28.

'We were stuck on that 28 for too long,' Roberts said.

Lake Oswego, meanwhile, was clicking on all cylinders during that stretch. The Lakers were especially effective with their fast break and Johnson was the biggest beneficiary as she scored seven points, all from lay-ins, during that span. But, it seemed whomever Lake Oswego went to during that run was destined to score.

'We have a lot of people across the floor, and we feel pretty solid about any of our eight that we put out there,' Fawcett said.

When the Lakers weren't flying up and down the court, they were usually getting easy baskets from their double post combination, with either Johnson or Hatch playing at the top of the key and the other one (or sometimes Shannon Reader) playing low. Then, they would switch roles without missing a beat.

'It's something we've been doing together since we were very little,' Johnson said of the high-low plays with Hatch, a fellow senior.

'Shannon was great, too,' Fawcett said. 'She kept a lot of balls alive. A lot of things we've been working on in practice she displayed in the game today.'

The Cougars managed to recover a bit down the stretch, especially when they got the ball inside to Katie Martin, who was fearless going against Lake Oswego's formidable interior defense.

'We came into the game knowing that they had some pretty good posts (including Julianne Erbe) and they weren't afraid to go the basket,' Johnson noted.

'We decided that we were going to go straight at them,' Roberts added.

But Lake Oswego had already built up enough of a lead by end of its second-half run that Martin and Erbe weren't able to make up the difference.

Griffin then finished off the victory by hitting 6 of 8 free throws in the final 68 seconds.

Overall, Lake Oswego's victory wasn't exactly a picture of perfection, but it was still good enough to get the Lakers to the state tournament. Now, it seems, that Fawcett's crew has as good of a chance as anyone to win it all. While it's definitely a possibility, nobody has really dwelled on it much this season.

'We've never talked about it,' Fawcett said. 'The only thing we've talked about is staying together as long as we can. And if we're fortunate enough to stay together all the way until Saturday, hey, that's great.'