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Sheldons slow-down tactics not enough to beat Lakers

by: Vern Uyetake, Kevin Love scores on a rebound basket early in the Sheldon game and broke “Pudgy” Hunt’s all-time state scoring record in the process. But Love managed only nine points in the low-scoring game.

It wasn't pretty. In fact, it looked downright ugly at times, but the Lake Oswego boys basketball team got the only result that mattered, which was a 28-25 victory in last Friday's state semifinal game against Sheldon.

A lot of teams have tried to slow down Lake Oswego's high-powered offense this season but no one had done it successfully until the Irish nearly pulled it off on Friday.

'(Sheldon coach Ron Lampe) followed the rules … . If you have good enough ball-handlers, just like they do, and then if they hit some shots, which they did, they stay in the game,' Lake Oswego coach Mark Shoff said.

Sheldon's objective was to keep the ball out of Kevin Love's hands as much as possible and the Irish accomplished that, limiting the All-American center to three shots. Love had to make all three of those attempts and hit three of five free throws just to score nine points for the game. That was 16 points below his previous low total of the season. It was the first time in more than a year that he was held to single digits.

'I don't care if I scored one point. I don't care if I scored zero points as long as we won,' Love said after the game. 'But it was a little frustrating … That's just not basketball. That's not how you play.'

By holding onto the ball for long stretches, Sheldon held the Lakers to just 19 shots for the game (they made 10 of them) and only four for the entire second half. At times, the game looked a chess match, or maybe a wrestling match where one grappler spent the entire time running away from his competitor.

'I'm not sure if we just got done playing a basketball game or a war,' Shoff said after the game.

Sheldon's slow-down tactics reminded Shoff of some of things Lake Oswego used to employ in years gone by.

'The strategy is something we used to use a long, long time ago at Lake Oswego,' the coach said. 'I was thinking I'd hate to get beat with something like that.'

With the possessions few and far between, Love wound up scoring the decisive basket with five minutes remaining in the contest. It came after Love stole a pass near mid-court and dribbled the distance for a lay-in. He was also fouled on the play and made the free throw to give the Lakers a three-point cushion.

The Irish never did score in the final period, but Sheldon's Brent McKee had two chances in the final 35 seconds to tie the game with a three-pointer. Both times, though, he was just off the mark, including a desperation attempt from the corner that rimmed in and out just before the final buzzer sounded.

'Sheldon probably doesn't have as much firepower as we do,' Love said. 'But they played a great game …. But you just wished they had a shot clock in those kind of games.'

Sheldon used a triangle-and-two defense, with the one defender in front and another one behind Love. Several teams have employed the same strategy against Lake Oswego this season, but the Lakers usually won these games by wide margins because they were able to get big, early leads, and then their opponent would be forced to change its strategy.

But the Lakers couldn't shake the Irish in the early going. Their biggest lead in the first half came when Ernie Spada hit a three-pointer to put Lake Oswego in front 14-9 late in the first quarter. But Sheldon center Blake Poole closed that gap to 14-12 when he hit a three-pointer just before the quarter ended.

Poole wound up as the game's leading scorer with 12 points, on a 5-for-10 shooting effort. He also had six rebounds, which equaled Love's total.

After a moderate pace in the opening period, the game slowed down considerably midway through the second stanza when Sheldon opted to hold the ball for almost the remainder of the half. Lake Oswego was nursing an 18-16 lead at the break.

The lead 'swelled' to 22-16 when Love hit a pair of free throws approximately two minutes into the third quarter. It looked like the lead would grow even bigger, but Love got called for an offensive foul to stem Lake Oswego's momentum.

'If Kevin doesn't get called for that offensive foul, suddenly we break loose,' Shoff said.

Instead, Sheldon rallied behind two baskets by Poole and a three-pointer and a lay-up by McKee to tie the game 25-all at the end of the third.

Then, after Love scored what turned out to be the game's final basket with five minutes remaining, the Lakers gave the Irish some of their own medicine by stalling for a long stretch in the final minutes.

'If they're going to play that way, (then) make them play defense too,' Shoff said.

Almost lost in the bizarre events of Friday's game was the fact Love became Oregon's all-time career scoring leader. His rebound basket at the 2:57 mark of the first period moved Love past Knappa's Bob 'Pudgy' Hunt, who established the mark in 1957.

Elliot Babcock-Krenk wound up being Lake Oswego's top scorer in the game with 10 points. All but two of those points came in the first half when Love was having trouble just getting his hands on the ball.

'I was doing my part,' Babcock-Krenk said. 'When the shots are there, I'll take them.'

Babcock-Krenk also found himself at the bottom of a couple of mad scrabbles for loose balls, including once when he took a shot to the face.

'It wasn't very fun,' he said. 'I was just trying to protect myself.'

Spada, meanwhile, finished with nine points, all on three-pointers.