Friday, February 10, 2006

Two Down

Lindbergh -- 16 11 09 26 -- 62
Hoover ---- 14 08 15 14 -- 51

We knew this game would be a strong test for us, and we weren't disappointed. Hoover had won its first game fairly easily, and their success during football season suggested that they would be fairly athletic at the very least. Like every game I've ever coached, I went in looking for a win, but I was secretly hoping for something more, a decisive win that might send a statement to our league. We didn't get that, but we ended up with was probably something even better.

We had all sixteen players eligible for the game, which was comforting. Markes and Jesse, last week's stars, would obviously start again, joined by Derek at power forward, Koko at center, and Chris (suspended last week) at shooting guard. Raynard had finally gotten his physical, but his spotty attendance over the past week earned him a spot on the bench. Not to worry, though. As I told him before the game, finishing is much more important than starting.

The first quarter was ragged. We started with our full court press again, but Hoover was much more capable than Bancroft was last week. I don't think we forced any turnovers, but we did succeed in turning the game into a track meet for the first eight minutes as both teams pushed the ball up and down the court, scoring on some trips and kicking the ball away on others. It looked like our superior depth was beginning to make a difference in the second quarter as we grabbed a five-point halftime lead, but the third quarter belonged to Hoover, and we were lucky to get to the final eight minutes with only a one-point defecit.

Hoover's offense was built around two fairly decent shooters, and they both got hot to start the fourth quarter. It wasn't until about midway through the fourth that we were finally able to stretch our defense enough to get out to the shooters, essentially stifling their offense. Behind the efforts of Jesse and Raynard, who combined for 22 points in the quarter, we were able to take a three-point lead with about two minutes to play. Following a turnover, Markes was fouled on a fast break with 1:38 to play, but the Hoover coach called timeout to set his strategy before the freethrows.

In our sideline huddle, I chose to focus their energy in a positive direction. Here's what I said, almost verbatim: "Okay, this is what's going to happen. Markes is going to go out there and hit both of those free throws, making the score 56-51. Remember we're not pressing, so we'll get back on defense as quickly as possible. Raynard, you've been doing such a great job closing out on their shooter, I know he won't get a shot. We'll get the stop we need, and we'll have the ball back with a five-point lead and about a minute and twenty seconds to play. At that point the clock will be in our favor, and we'll be able to close this game out."

Now here's what happened. Markes made both free throws, we got the stop we needed, and we secured the rebound with exactly 1:20 on the clock. We were able to play keep away for about thirty seconds, we did a good job from the line, and Hoover didn't score again. Final score: 62-51.

A lot of good things happened for us in the fourth quarter. Raynard was dominant on the offensive end, scoring 14 points in the quarter, and in addition to those two clutch free throws, Markes did a great job controlling the flow of the game. As a team, we made nine of twelve free throws down the stretch, which excellent for this level. But undoubtedly my favorite moment came in the closing seconds. We were up by nine with about fifteen seconds to play and the game no longer in doubt when Jesse found himself defending Hoover's center all alone under the basket. Instead of just stepping aside and letting the clock run out as the Hoover big man scored, Jesse accepted the challenge and blocked the shot of a kid four or five inches taller. The Hoover player snatched the ball out of the air and went up again, only to have Jesse deny him a second time. While eight other players stood and watched, a third shot went up and Jesse blocked it again. Three shots, three clean blocks. Unbelievable.