It'll Be Lake Oswego v. South Medford
Bill Long 3/9/07
But Almost Not...
As predicted in a previous essay, Lake Oswego and South Medford will meet tomorrow night (Saturday) at 8:15 p.m. at McArthur Court at the University of Oregon to determine the boys 2007 6A Basketball champion. The final game pits two teams arguably in the top 10 nationally even though South Medford has fallen out of Sports Illustrated's online top 10 list because of a late-season loss to Sheldon. Nevertheless, as I argued here, South Medford is probably the stronger team, and I predict it to emerge victorious tomorrow. No Oregon team has won a back to back crown in more than 25 years, and I think the hex will continue. The purpose of this essay is to review the two semifinal games today, with more emphasis on SM's stunningly impressive 19-point win over Jesuit (70-51).
Sheldon Almost in the Finals
In order for LO to make it to the finals in 2007 for the third consecutive year, it only had to beat Sheldon, which it had beaten earlier in the season by 30 points, in the semifinals. But a late season surge from the Eugene team, crowned by a victory over SM at home, should have signaled to the Lakers that these guys were to be reckoned with. Indeed, they were. Though LO led by two at the end of the quarter (14-12), Sheldon center Blake Poole caused the Lakers problems as he dropped in a few threes and managed also to play strong under the boards. And then, after the first period, the Sheldon coaching staff probably decided (wisely) that they couldn't win a fast-paced game and so they stalled for the remainder of the game. It almost paid off. After three quarters the score was tied at 25, and the only scoring in the fourth came on a Kevin Love three point-play (steal, dribble, lay-up, fouled). Love was confined to nine points and was effectively neutralized by Sheldon's stall as well as by a double-team of Poole and Alex Besaw. Though LO had a chance to "ice" the game twice, it couldn't do so. Love missed both free throws in a late foul against him, and Taylor Marr missed the front end of a 1 + 1 with about 30 seconds remaining. Sheldon had two good three-point looks in the waning seconds but could not convert. Sheldon's strategy almost paid huge dividends here; LO is fortunate to have escaped.... Oh, by the way, Love broke the Oregon schoolboy scoring record during this game. He now has 2591 points, breaking Bob Hunt's 50 year-old record of 2584. One game remains.
South Medford Triumphs Over Jesuit
If there is one lesson that is clear from the past decade of Oregon boys basketball it is that you never count out Jesuit. The only team they have a mental block against is Jefferson of Portland. Normally they are so well-coached and disciplined, emphasizing speed, outside shooting, suffocating defense and fewer mistakes than their opponents that even teams with a ten-point lead over Jesuit usually consider that the game is "even." As with Canby last evening in the quarterfinals, so Jesuit fell behind SM tonight and then gradually began to whittle away at SM's advantage. But ultimately the Panthers were simply too versatile and big for Jesuit. Indeed, Kyle Singler showed his All-American skills as he pumped in 26 points and pulled down about a dozen boards. And, even though Jesuit possesses an array of impressive three-point shooters in Dan Feest (hit five tonight), Kevin Chalmers, Sam Kaempf and John Elorriaga, the Jesuit fortunes began to ebb in the third quarter as they missed five long ones in a row and SM was able to convert on the other end on most of the rebounds. In addition, SM was able to match Jesuit's tenacity on defense, causing them to make uncharacteristic turnovers again and again. By the end of the evening, SM showed why it is one of the choice basketball teams in America.
Tomorrow Night's Finale
I have already gone on record with saying that I think SM will win tomorrow, probably by a narrow margin (I guess three). They are just too long and lean and athletic for the smaller Lakers. If Love is able to turn in a career game, the Lakers might have a chance to win, but Kyle Singler will probably neutralize him enough to allow the rest of the SM offense to do its work. With brother EJ hitting more and more from various places on the court, with Jon Grimes turning in an extremely impressive performance tonight and with Michael Harthun showing why he is possibly the top junior in the state of Oregon, SM should be able to bring home a title. But LO won't give up without a fight. Ernie Spada and Kevin Love form a duo that can sometimes put up more than 50 points in a night.
Other commitments do not permit me to be in Eugene for tomorrow night's final. It should, however, be a game for the ages.