West Linn boys race past North Medford 89-59 in state tournament opener
The West Linn boys basketball team was ready.
The Lions, after a great regular season that was nonetheless beset by doubt, criticism and turmoil, was ready to get going in the Class 6A state tournament, ready to defend their four straight state titles, and ready to prove the critics and doubters wrong.
West Linn did as much of that as humanly possible on Wednesday night, blasting seventh-ranked Southwest Conference champ North Medford 89-59 in the quarterfinals at the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus.
"We prepared really well for this game," said West Linn senior guard Braden Olsen, who finished with 20 points, seven assists and four steals against the Black Tornado. "We're glad to be here and we're ready to play. We're ready for the big lights, we're used to it and we loved it."
"It feels great. I feel like today we made a big statement," said West Linn senior guard Rodney Hounshell, who added another 20 points on 8 of 12 shooting from the floor (including 4 of 6 on three-pointers). "This is the first game that we really clicked together. We played really well together, the ball was really moving."
The win — the Lions' 16th straight — lifted second-ranked Three Rivers League champion West Linn's season record to 22-4 and sent the team on to face No. 3 Mt. Hood Conference champion Clackamas (23-4 overall) in the semifinals at 3:15 p.m. Friday.
The Cavaliers and Lions met twice in the regular season, with West Linn winning 83-69 on Dec. 20, then losing 88-87 in the Les Schwab Invitational on Dec. 29. Clackamas beat West Salem 68-52 in its Wednesday quarterfinal.
"I just can't wait for Friday," Olsen said. "We're looking forward to (Clackamas). If we just fix a few things from tonight, we'll be good to go."
"We've got to shut down (senior guard Elijah Gonzales), him and Matt (O'Brien)," Hounshell added. "For us, we want revenge. We lost to them the last time in the LSI by one point on a buzzer-beater so we're going to come out hard."
For West Linn, almost as big as Wednesday's win was the successful return of senior wing Khalid Thomas. Thomas strained his right knee when he got tangled up with Madison's David Lawrence on a rebound in the Lions' playoff opener and missed his team's second-round win over Lincoln.
But Thomas did his best to make that injury look like ancient history on Wednesday. He broke through for 16 points on 7 of 7 shooting from the floor — four of those on dunks — grabbed five rebounds and also handed out three assists.
"I feel like I'm one hundred percent," Thomas said after the game. "Tonight was really a test to see how it was and it felt really good tonight."
The Black Tornado — which fell to 21-6 with the loss — held its own early in Wednesday's game, leading 10-9 on a layin by Kaison Faust with 3 minutes, 21 seconds to go in the first quarter.
But West Linn took over then and there, closed the quarter on a 12-0 run over the period's final 3:11, posted a 21-10 edge at the end of the period and never looked back. Thomas was electric in that stretch, throwing down three dunks off Olsen steals and assists and scoring eight points in just 2:30, while Olsen added the other four points.
"We came out tonight with a lot of energy. It helped us a lot," Thomas said.
The Lions then dropped the hammer on North Medford in the second quarter, outscoring the Black Tornado 34-12 in the stanza to take a commanding 55-22 lead at halftime. While Thomas and Olsen continued their solid play in the period — Thomas adding yet another dunk and five more points — it was Hounshell who really caught fire.
Hounshell scored 16 of his 20 points in a span of just 4:23 in the period, hitting 6 of 7 shots from the floor, including four three-pointers.
He kicked off that stretch with a layin assisted by Thomas after a Thomas steal, drilled two "threes" in just 21 seconds, hit a jumpshot and then two more three-pointers, the last of those pushing West Linn's lead to 51-19 with 1:43 remaining in the half.
Hounshell, who battled a sore knee off and on over the course of the season, was feeling good at the end of Wednesday's contest.
"It does feel good right now," he said. "We had 13 assists at the half so it was a big step for us."
The second half was mostly a foregone conclusion. By game's end, the Black Tornado — led by Brad Allen's 22 points and 13 rebounds, and 18 from Faust — had outscored West Linn 37-34 in the final two quarters but never got within 25 points the rest of the way.
"When we're focused, we play really well together," Thomas added. "When we focused up, we shut them down again and limited their second-chance points."
Keishon Dawkins added 13 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals for West Linn, while teammate Drayton Caoile added seven points, three assists and two steals.
Dawson Sherbourne added eight points for North Medford in the loss.