Beavers lock up Wildcats in 6A quarterfinals
The fallacies about not being able to beat a team four straight times and the talk about the state stage being maybe a little too big, Beaverton brushed aside.
Tasked with the supposedly unenviable task of taking out archrival Westview for the fourth time this season after three even battles during the regular season, the Beavers fell back on what got them to the Class 6A quarterfinals in the first place — tireless defense.
Smothering the Wildcats' biggest scoring threats and limiting Westview's normally streamlined offense, Beaverton held Westview to just 31.8 percent shooting and went on a big 13-3 second quarter run to seize a 27-15 halftime lead and an eventual 56-42 win over its archenemy at the Chiles Center on March 7. Beaverton — winners of two back-to-back Metro League titles — left little doubt about who the best team in Metro was during the regular season and is moving forward. The No. 4 Beavers will play No. 1 Jefferson in the 6A semis on Friday at 3:15 p.m. at the Chiles Center.
"This was our best defensive performance of the year," Beaverton senior point guard Cole Johanson said. "We were just locked in. I could feel the whole team on a string. Even when I was on the bench I could see everybody was focused in. I was just really proud of how focused we were as a team. We weren't doing any big fullcourt press or anything. We just sat back in our man-to-man (defense), locked in and played great 'D'."
If ever there was a time for Westview to break through against Beaverton it was now in an atmosphere they were familiar with, playing under a pressure they'd withstood before under the white-hot Chiles Center lights, against an opponent whose sets, scouting reports and tells they could probably regurgitate backwards by now. But the Wildcats were off-kilter all evening long. Combined, senior stars Mason Elliott and Said Ali shot just 6-for-23 from the field. Senior Zac Schmerber, one of the best marksmen in all of 6A, only took six shots. The Wildcats as a whole missed layups, overshot threes, committed uncharacteristic turnovers and simply struggled as the game got away in the first half. Westview plays Grant in the consolation bracket at 9 a.m. on Thursday.
"You're disappointed for your team, for your fans, for your community because we're better than that," Westview head coach Pat Coons said. "Our guys know we're better than that and that's why they're down. But you are what you are and you have to go out and show it. When things don't quite go your way, guys start pressing and start trying to make things happen. Give Beaverton credit. They played good defense and you don't want to take that away from them. We didn't expect anything different. We just expected it to be closer down the stretch."
It didn't help Westview senior Zach Sly picked up three fouls in the first quarter and had to sit the rest of the first half. His absence was obvious as the Wildcats couldn't space the floor without one of their best outside shooters, which allowed Beaverton to pack the paint and focus all of their defensive attention on Ali and Elliott.
"You want to have your best arsenal and Beaverton wants to have their best arsenal in that situation, so it's just disappointing," Coons said. "That's just unfortunate because he's one of our smartest players. He's a good shooter and he has a calm feel for the game. We were playing 10-point catch-up and Beaverton just played comfortable the whole way. You don't want to give any team any kind of cushion, especially when you're the 'underdog'."
With Westview trailing just 16-12 midway through the second quarter, Beaverton senior Carson Crawford swished a three, then Beaverton hounded Elliott into a tough miss and took advantage of numbers going the other with a Jake Estep three-pointer in transition to go up 22-12 with three minutes to go. Then, after Schmerber hit a trey, Beaverton senior Jamie Sweatman lined up a three from the left wing and hit it.
"We know our shots are gonna eventually fall," Sweatman said. "You could feel our crowd into the game and it's always nice to have them with us no matter where we're at. They help us a lot with our momentum. And, when we get a couple of big plays, we just look to them and they go crazy."
And, after Beaverton came up with another cough-up, senior Hunter Sweet beat Westview down the floor for a fast break layup that punctuated the commanding 13-3 run and sent the Beavers into intermission with a 27-15 advantage. Beaverton's second quarter defense from the midway point of the period, on, was suffocating. Drives to the rim were contested and altered or detected and defused with helpside defense that coerced cough ups and run outs. Beaverton's deciding second quarter spurt was all set up by its defense. And in a game where a 10-point lead felt like 20, that run was everything.
"We knew if we got a big lead that the competitive mindset would come in," Johanson said. "We know we're a good team. We know we're the better team. We beat these guys three times when we were up 10. When we went on that run, that's when we really got that feeling that we were gonna win that game."
The confidence Beaverton carried from beating Westview three times over belied any kind of prior state experience advantage the Wildcats possessed. The Beavers believed they could stop Westview when it needed. They were sure the shots would drop and the game-shifting plays would come their way, if only because that's how each of three matchups went before. And, as the game seemed to get away from Westview in the second half, the Wildcats tried to take matters into their hands as individuals, rather than trusting the team framework that carried them to the state tournament.
"We have a tendency to panic a little bit," Coons said. "Against a good defensive team like Beaverton, you can't force anything. We wanted to be patient, but also assertive. We wanted to find that balance. We lost a little bit of patience and then when Sly is out of there it's a different lineup. You like to think we're veterans who have been here before. We just had to relax, but you just don't know what kids are going to do when they get on that floor."
The second half surge Beaverton expected from Westview never transpired. A three from Elliott and a layup from Sly closed Beaverton's lead to 36-26 in the third quarter. But, then Sweet used one his patented step through moves to bully inside for two. And the 2016 Metro Player of the Year caught the ball on the right block, spun around Isaac Overson and finished for the and-one three-point play to go up 41-27. To boot, Sweet took three charges, led Beaverton with 11 rebounds and helped anchor a backline defense that held Ali to six points.
"It was about who made that little extra effort," Johanson said. "Hunter Sweet lays his body on the line over and over. He doesn't give a crap that he has a back injury that's been bothering him all year. He's diving on the floor, taking charges against Mason who's just a freak of nature. When you have unselfish guys like that on your team it's pretty special."
Sweet had plenty of help too. Crawford grabbed eight rebounds. Estep poured in a game-high 22 points and Johanson added 11. Elliott led Westview with 16 points. The Wildcats never came within nine points of the Beavers in the fourth quarter.
As the smiling Sweatman walked to the Beaver locker room with the large contingent of Beaverton High students shouting his praises from high above the Chiles Center floor, the senior sixth man quickly raised the four fingers on his right hand skyward, looked at the digits in bewilderment, then back toward his classmates and mouthed "four!?" as the student section roared with joy. Indeed, for the fourth time this season, Beaverton knocked off their longtime nemesis, only this time with much higher stakes, against an even more motivated Westview foe. Now they get a shot a Democrat team that's been picked by nearly every pundit to win the state crown.
"We have to bring that same energy to Jeff," Johanson said. "Jeff has one of the best offenses in the state and probably the most talent. We're gonna have to lock in and bring out what we did today and maybe even up it a notch to compete with them."