Nuss searchs for right combo as Pacers settle for seventh

by: Vern Uyetake, Lakeridge guard Josh Little eyes a loose ball that he picked up and turned into a basket during his team’s holiday tournament game against Gresham on Friday. Little scored a team-high 18 points to lead Lakeridge to a 69-64 victory over the Gophers.

Just when it seemed the Lakeridge boys basketball team was ready to take a big step forward the Pacers instead took a step backward.

At least that's the way it seemed when the Pacers lost a 76-55 decision to Glencoe (a class 5A team) in the first round of the Lakeridge Holiday Classic basketball tournament last week.

The Pacers made amends the following night with a vastly improved effort in a three-point loss to North Medford. That led to a five-point overtime win over Gresham in the final round of the tournament on Friday. Even then, there was a sense that the Pacers were still stinging from their big loss to Glencoe.

'We were very flat,' Lakeridge coach Dave Nuss said after that Glencoe game. 'That was really disappointing for me, because we had just come out of a team retreat where we set some goals as a team and I was hoping to see something positive come out of that.

'Then to come out and play the way we played against Glencoe, it was disappointing. I don't have an answer, except to say that these are 15, 16, 17 and 18-year-old men and sometimes you don't know what you're going to get from them.'

It would be easy to say that Lakeridge was looking past Glencoe in that game. When a 6A team plays a 5A squad, most people would expect the team with the higher classification to win the game. So, it's possible that Lakeridge might have been looking forward to a possible second-round match-up against Southridge, which eventually won the tournament.

That might explain why Lakeridge had trouble getting back on defense against a Crimson Tide team that loves to run. That turned what had been a relatively close game in the first half into a rout by the midway point of the third quarter.

The loss to Glencoe was bad enough but the most demoralizing news of the night came when Lakeridge forward Chris Hoch suffered a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee after taking a hard spill late in the contest.

He's expected to miss anywhere from three to eight weeks of action. If it's eight weeks, that could effectively sideline the 6-foot-3 junior for the remainder of the season. Of course, everyone in the Lakeridge camp is praying for the lower estimate.

'In terms of the news that we could get, that's probably the best of the worst,' Nuss said. 'There's a chance that he may be able to come back in about four weeks or so, which would be nice because we would still be in the first half of our league (season).

'He's the kind of kid that could make a difference in those six (remaining) games and help us pick up some critical wins.'

It was ironic that it took the temporary loss of Hoch to open up a spot on the roster for his freshman brother, 6-5 Michael Hoch, who had been limited to junior varsity action until Chris' injury.

Michael Hoch made the most of his opportunity when he scored 16 points in a reserve role the following night in a hard-fought 52-49 loss to a touted North Medford team.

That earned the younger Hoch a starting assignment the next day when the Pacers registered their only victory of the tournament - a 69-64 overtime win over Gresham. He wound up scoring eight points in that game.

After nearly being run off the floor by Glencoe, the Pacers seemingly could have been in trouble against a North Medford team that is even more proficient in the open court.

But Nuss threw the Black Tornado a bit of a changeup when he had the Pacers switch to a more deliberate style of play. That strategy worked well as the Pacers controlled the tempo of the game, which helped them post a six-point lead late in the third quarter.

However, North Medford did manage to tie the game at 42-all by the end of that period. The Tornado then turned defensive when they held Lakeridge to seven fourth-quarter points en route to a 52-49 victory.

After initially having visions of playing for a championship in their own tournament, the Pacers were now faced with the realization that the best they could do was seventh place in an eight-team tournament. That didn't leave much to play for, but the Pacers still had plenty of incentive to avoid landing in the cellar.

To their credit, the Pacers played well almost the entire way in that final game. But Gresham also was hungry for a win and managed to hang with the Pacers almost the entire way.

In fact, the Gophers even held the lead on three occasions in the fourth quarter. Lakeridge responded each time, though, including when Tyler Larsen drained a three-pointer to tie the score at 53-all with 2:58 left in the fourth.

That was followed a short time later by possibly the best play of the tournament for the Pacers. The play started when Josh Little had to chase down a pass that appeared to be headed out of bounds. But Little saved the ball, then twisted his body back toward the basket and tossed up a difficult scoop shot that found its way into the basket.

'That was an amazing play,' Nuss would say later.

After a tying basket by Gresham and a missed opportunity by Lakeridge, the Gophers had a chance to win on a last-second shot. But Mickey Inns' attempted three-pointer was blocked by Ian Maurer and the game was headed to overtime.

Maurer then started off the extra period with a jump hook that gave Lakeridge the lead for good. That basket started an eight-point run by the Pacers, which included another acrobatic shot by Little.

Little wound up being his team's leading scorer with 18 points. Larsen chipped in another 13 while James Higgins contributed 11 despite playing with an injured wrist.

After the tournament, Lakeridge headed out on a two-week holiday break and won't be back in action until a Jan. 4 game at Canby. Nuss figures that will be the beginning of a long string of closely contested games.

After beating Gresham, 'I told the guys, 'I don't think there's another easy game left on your schedule … I think you're going to be in nothing but tight games the rest of the way.' '

But that's not a bad thing, because the Pacers seem to play well when they know they're going to be pushed.

'I think a lot of those will be games we can win … if we play the way we're capable of playing,' Nuss said.