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Milwaukie girls string at 21


The Mustangs are at the top of their game heading into the Class 5A State Tournament

Anyone who thinks they can count the Milwaukie Mustangs out in the 2013 Class 5A girls basketball title chase had better think again.

The Mustangs are playing at the top of their game heading into this week’s state tournament. They are playing with a lot of confidence, and with good reason. They are riding a school-record 21-game win string and they haven’t lost a game to an Oregon Class 5A team this season.

They are averaging 55 points an outing, to 38 points by their opponents.

The Mustangs have one of the top players in the state in playmaking guard Alexis Noren. The 5-10 senior is averaging 17 points, 50 percent shooting, 5.8 assists, 6 rebounds and 4.4 steals on the season.

But the Mustangs have lots of other talented players, and when opponents key on Noren, it opens things up for her teammates.

Thirteenth-ranked Marshfield found that out last Saturday, when the Pirates keyed on Noren, holding her to just two points. Teammates Lorissa Martine (16 points), April Meads (14 points), Emily Downs (12 points) and Taylor Cunningham (10 points) all hit double figures in scoring and the Mustangs cruised to a 58-33 runaway win.

“They keyed on Alexis, pressuring her, and trying not to let her get the ball,” said Milwaukie coach Kevin McElroy. “She did a good job distributing to her teammates. That’s the way we play ball. You send a player to help out on Alexis, it’s going to leave someone else open, and we’re going to capitalize....

“We did a good job of sharing the basketball, playing aggressively on defense and limiting them to one shot. The same things that have brought us success all season.”

Noren finished Saturday’s game with a season-high 12 assists.

The Mustangs were hot from long range, cashing in nine times from 3-point land. Meads hit four treys; Martine connected three times from beyond the arc; and Downs had a pair of 3-point baskets.

The Mustangs were in charge of Saturday’s game all the way, as they rolled to a 19-8 advantage in the first quarter and never looked back.

Saturday’s win advanced the sixth-ranked Mustangs to a Class 5A quarterfinal game with third-ranked Willamette (20-4, 8-2), scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the University of Oregon’s Knight Arena.

If the Mustangs win on Thursday, they’ll likely face second-ranked West Albany (24-0, 14-0) Friday at 6:30 p.m. in the championship semifinals. And if they win that game, they’d likely meet top-ranked Springfield (22-3, 10-0) Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in the state final.

“We have the toughest path of anybody to the state championship....,” McElroy said. “But, If we keep doing what we’ve been doing all year, I like our chances.”

Willamette’s only losses this season have come at the hands of Springfield (twice, 57-53 and 47-30), Class 6A Westview (48-39) and Class 6A St. Mary’s (55-45). Milwaukie’s only losses were to Class 6A Oregon City (65-51) and to Class 6A Jesuit (49-43 in overtime). The Mustangs prevailed 51-47 in an early season game with St. Mary’s.

Willamette is averaging 61 points a game, to 38 points by its opponents.

Undefeated West Albany has outscored its opponents by an average tally of 56-33 this season. The Bulldogs have had a couple of close games, a 66-61 win over Marist in their season opener, and 52-49 win over Corvallis, in a Jan. 25 game with the Spartans.

Springfield is riding a 17-game win string. The Millers’ last loss was to Willamette (58-51) in a Dec. 28 game at the Lake Oswego Nike Interstate Shootout. The Millers also lost to Class 6A Sheldon (44-40) and to Norcross, Georgia (45-42) in December. Springfield has outscored its opponents by an average of 17 points, 55-38.

Springfield topped Willamette 16-7 in last year’s state final, a bizarre game in which Willamette held the ball for most of the contest. Willamette handled Milwaukie 59-32 in last year’s quarterfinals, and the Mustangs bounced back to defeat Wilsonville 42-35 in the fourth-place final, earning the first trophy in girls basketball in the history of their school. West Albany defeated Bend in last year’s third-place final, after losing to Willamette 47-33 in the semifinals.

McElroy said he believes his Mustangs have a good chance of getting even with Willamette in this year’s quarterfinals.

“Willamette’s a lot like us,” McElroy said. “They’ve got a point guard, Lexi Bando, who can hurt you. And if you help out too much [defending Bando], they’ve got other players who can make you pay.

“It should be a great game. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

While the Mustangs may have had deer-in-the-headlights nerves when they met Willamette a year ago, this year they’ve got a veteran lineup, with a host of players who have been there. And nerves shouldn’t be as much of a factor as they were a year ago.