After two more wins, West Linn battles No. 3 Clackamas Friday

by: VERN UYETAKE - Payton Pritchard elevates for a layup during Tuesday's victory over Grant. Pritchard has scored 57 points combined in the Lions' last two games.West Linn's boys basketball team cruised to wins against competitive Westview and Grant teams in their final preseason games of the year, but coach Eric Viuhkola still knows there's room for improvement.

“At times we played really well. We're practicing hard, but when we get into games we don't feel connected sometimes,” Viuhkola said.

Against the Wildcats last week, West Linn led after the first quarter but saw that advantage shrink as Westview bombarded the Lions with outside shots.

The Wildcats shot the lights out, particularly in the second quarter when they went 9-for-13 from the field and carried a five-point lead into halftime.

“There were guys we didn't want to let hurt us and they were able to make plays. I think for some teams we're their Super Bowl and we're getting their best shot,” Viuhkola said.

West Linn made adjustments, especially on defense and began to slow Westview down early in the third period.

“We went to a three-quarters trap and that gave us some confidence and we really played well as a team on offense,” Viuhkola said.

After giving up 39 points in the first half, the Lions took the Wildcats out of their comfort zone, holding them to just 22 points in the third and fourth quarters.

West Linn quickly erased the deficit and led by four with one quarter to play. The Lions kept the momentum going, building their lead and confidently putting Westview away on the road.

Payton Pritchard led all scorers with 30 points in a terrific offensive performance. Anthony Mathis added 20 points and Ryan Shearmire had 14.

West Linn then took on Grant at home Tuesday and was en route to a blowout before a late rally by the Generals cut the final score to 89-73.

With the Generals missing their best player due to injury, the Lions wanted to create a fast-paced game.

“We didn't think Grant handled pressure that well so we kind of wanted to make it a helter-skelter game,” Viuhkola said.

West Linn succeeded in that effort and created multiple turnovers and was extremely efficient on offense.

The Lions scored inside and out, knocking down multiple jump shots in the early going.

West Linn led 28-12 after just the first quarter and was up 50-26 at halftime. The onslaught continued after the break with the Lions pushing their advantage to 30 points before backing off their pressure slightly.

However, that breathing room was enough for Grant to take advantage and go on a run to close out the third period.

“We took off the pressure and that may have been a mistake on my part. I backed off a bit and maybe the guys took my lead a little,” Viuhkola said.

The Generals started to find a groove on offense and trailed by 18 with one quarter to play. Grant continued to play its best basketball of the night in the fourth quarter with a bit of renewed confidence but the Lions' offense was too potent to mount a comeback.

Pritchard finished the game with 27 points to lead the Lions again.

West Linn closed out the victory and now has won five straight games.

The Lions have played one of the hardest schedules in the state to start the season but things don't get any easier as league begins Friday.

The opening TRL contest for West Linn should be one of the marquee match-ups in the state as the Lions, ranked No. 1 by the OSAA, host No. 3 Clackamas.

The Cavaliers are one of the hottest teams in Oregon and bring in a 12-2 record to the contest.

“I think they're the best 6A team we've played this year. They're long and have a lot of depth and really know what they're trying to accomplish,” Viuhkola said.

West Linn will play the second game of a double-header Friday immediately following the girls' contest.

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