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Loves 35 leads LO to state

by: Vern Uyetake, Most of his offense comes from the perimeter, but in last Saturday’s playoff game against Gresham, the Lakers’ Ernie Spada showed he could score from inside the key as well. Spada finished with 10 points while teammate Kevin Love had a game-high 35 and Lake Oswego earned another trip to state with a 71-40 victory over the Gophers.

If the focus was to make a big statement, the Lake Oswego boys basketball team did it last Saturday with a one-sided 71-40 victory over Gresham in the second round of the state playoffs.

Of course, the real goal was just to get to this week's state tournament, which the Lakers (24-1) accomplished for the fourth season in a row. The lopsided victory was just icing on the cake.

'Four years (at state). That's pretty good, huh,' said Lake Oswego coach Mark Shoff, who seemed subdued after the game after struggling most of the week with severe back pain.

But, while Shoff was occasionally grimmacing on the bench, it was the Gresham team that was feeling all of the pain as the Lakers dominated the game from start to finish.

The biggest thorn in Gresham's side was 6-foot-10 All-Americia center Kevin Love, who led the way for the Lakers with 35 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots. He did it despite being double and sometimes triple-teamed most of the night.

'That's what I've been doing all year,' said Love, who didn't even seem that impressed with his own effort. 'I'm just happy that we got the big win.'

Gresham, which finished second in the Mount Hood Conference and advanced to the second round with a victory over Sprague, had the right game plan coming into Saturday's game. The Gophers wanted to slow down the pace of the contest and limit Love's scoring opportunities in the process. But Gresham had to abandon its plan midway through the opening period after the Lakers jumped to a 10-0 lead.

'Gresham wanted to slow it up and it was 10-0 before they knew what hit them, and then they had to play,' Shoff said.

Lake Oswego's advantage swelled to 21-4 by the end of the first quarter. But, surprisingly, Love had only two of those points. Instead of forcing the ball inside against Gresham's triangle-and-two defense, the Lakers' perimeter players exploited the gaps in the Gophers' spread-out defense.

'That frees everybody else up,' Love said of Gresham's stacked defense, 'and my teammates stepped up big-time.'

'As long as (teams) keep doing that (on defense), it will be easy,' Shoff said. 'When it's three against our four, we'll keep doing that.'

So, it was guard Ernie Spada who led the way for Lake Oswego in that first quarter with eight points, including a pair of three-pointers. And Landon Ainge added five points to the Lakers' first-quarter effort.

Then it was Love's turn as the UCLA-bound star scored 15 second-quarter points, which accounted for all but two of Lake Oswego's points in the period. His effort included a pair of ally-oop dunks - one on an assist from Ainge and the other on a lob from Spada.

'You've got to give our guys credit,' Shoff said of the pinpoint passes that were made to Love. 'We spent time in practice doing that. It's a timing deal and they know Kevin probably as well as anybody.'

Gresham, meanwhile, was unable to do anything more than trade baskets for a five-minute span in the second quarter - a stretch that included five points by point guard Travis Dorn and a three-pointer by sharp-shooter Michael Wohlers.

Still, Lake Oswego led 38-16 at halftime. The lead then swelled to 52-23 when the Lakers reeled off 10 unanswered points midway through the third quarter, a run that featured five points by Love, who earlier this week was named one of the participants in the upcoming McDonald's all-star game and is now expected to be named the national player of the year.

With the game already in the bag, the most noteworthy play came when Love was fouled from behind on a breakaway dunk attempt by Gresham's Jermaine Streeter. The play was ruled an intentional foul by the official, which drew the ire of Gresham coach Todd Nagel. After arguing the call, Nagel was then hit with a technical foul.

Even though the Gresham fans and their coach were outraged over the call, it appeared to be the only alternative the official had.

'He hit me kind of hard,' said Love, who was knocked into the wall from the force of the contact. 'He just went full sprint and went right for my body. He didn't really go for the ball. It was the right call.'

Unfortunately for the Lakers, Love converted only two of the four free throws that he was awarded for those two fouls. And then Lake Oswego threw the ball away on its ensuing possession, limiting what could have been a six-point play to just two points. But Lake Oswego still led 58-28 at that stage.

Love finished with one more point than his season average but the Gophers did a good job of boxing the big guy off the boards and held him seven below his rebounding average. But there were times when Gresham's interior defensive effort looked more like a wrestling match as the Gophers did everything possible to keep Love from touching the ball.

Shoff couldn't believe some of the things Gresham managed to get past the officials.

'When we threw the ball up in the air to him and he ends up out of bounds, you've got to call something,' Shoff said. 'But it's been going on for four years, so why would it change right now?'

Spada, meanwhile, was the only other Lake Oswego player in double figures for scoring and all 10 of his points came in the first half. He easily could have scored more against the Gophers, but just as he's done most of his career, he spent most of the night looking for Love.

'If he was on any other team, he would be averaging 18 points a game,' Shoff said of Spada.

Spada was at his best running the offense, but he never got credit for his best pass - a bounce pass through traffic to a streaking Love, who tried to finish off the play with a one-handed slam dunk. But Love was fouled on the play and the ball bounced off the back from the rim.

'Yeah, that was a great pass,' Shoff said in agreement. 'It was, the way he threaded it and got it between two defenders.'

Almost as soon as the Gresham game ended, talk quickly turned to the upcoming state tournament and the possibility of winning a second consecutive state championship. The top-ranked Lakers might be slight favorites, but it won't be easy, especially with high-powered South Medford looming at the other end of the bracket.

'This is what our guys have been focused on all year,' Shoff said. 'This is what it's all about, these next few days.'

The Lakers will start the tournament with a quarterfinal match-up against fifth-ranked Westview on Thursday at 3:15 p.m.

Almost lost in the hoopla of Lake Oswego's playoff run was the fact that Shoff was named the coach of the year in the Three Rivers League. But the coach didn't want to draw too much attention to himself.

'All it says is you've got good players when you win that award,' he said.