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Wildcats pull away from the Bruins in the third quarter, prepared for 6A second round

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Westview senior forward Wayne Jamison and the Wildcats will face No. 6 Barlow in the second round of the 6A playoffs.

Westview is precisely the kind of team that can give a bevy of deadeye shooters such as Barlow headaches.

Full of physical, long, athletic junkyard dog defenders like London Smalley, Jalen Grable and Wayne Jamison, the Wildcats can chase, contest, compress and cram the highest-flying offenses when it's connected. Brady Grier and Anshul Batish are tough and heady with the necessary physical dimensions to form a rigid team defensive shell with those three Dobermans as well.

The Bruins have the more ballyhooed stars in Jesse White and Evan Inglesby, both of whom are two of the top-five scorers at the Class 6A level. They have the higher ranking and homecourt advantage when Westview and Barlow fight it out in the second round of the 6A playoffs on Saturday for the right to advance to the Chiles Center, site of the elite eight.

The Bruins have a beehive for a home gym with one of the best crowds in the state. It'll be rowdy, raucous and filled to the brim. But Westview won't be out-toughed or outmanned. If the Wildcats continue to play lockdown defense as they have all year, Barlow will have a four-quarter brawl that wanes until the last two minutes or so come Saturday night.

"We might not be the best team, but we're not the team that you want to play," Smalley said. "We don't consider ourselves the underdog at all. That's how we want to act. I think we're ready. It'll be a good one."

Westview has won five of its last six and extended its season at least another three days by blasting Grants Pass 62-39 in the first round of the 6A playoffs at Westview High School on March 4. The Wildcats controlled the pace of the game from the tip and led 31-20 at the half. The Wildcats strung together defensive stops, harassed and harried the Cavemen into clanks from deep and got on the defensive glass. Grable was Westview's fulcrum, pinning Grants Pass' posts around the blocks, getting his arms outstretched for perimeter feeds. If Grable wasn't inside finishing with a soft touch, he was running Westview's offense from the top of the key, bouncing small-window passes to cutters such as Smalley, Jamison, Cade Whitaker and Batish.

Smalley was Westview's third-quarter igniter. The senior point guard was credited with four third-quarter assists and set up two baskets by keenly passing the basketball on time and on target to his teammates. Both Grier and Jamison knocked down triples to start the third off of Smalley setups. Jamison banked home a layup, set up by a cross-court laser pass from Smalley. Aiden Grady had a blow-by layup, again prepared by Smalley comprising and collapsing the Caver defense with dribble penetration to extend Westview's lead 49-28 late in the third. Jamison ended the game with 15 points while Grier led the Wildcats with 18, 10 of which were in the first half. Westview shot more than 50 percent from the field and ran away from Grants Pass with that third quarter outburst that saw the Wildcats make eight of their 10 field goals.

"We're a second-half team," Smalley said.

On top of the passing, Smalley added a three-pointer from the left corner off a dribble handoff from Grier who selflessly set a screen on Smalley's man so his captain could get a clean look. Grier also had a layup off a great find from Jamison.

Smalley is still in just his first year at the point after primarily playing off the ball as an underclassman. And while Smalley said he's had bouts of turnovers during certain stretches of the season, now he's had a full campaign of games under his belt as his squad's field general and feels much more comfortable.

"Down the stretch, it comes down to who can make the better decisions," Smalley said. "Right now, I'm just watching film, getting better, doing what I can do to take that leap and be the best guard I can be for my team."

Smalley is reading the game at a higher level, seeing the floor clearer, figuring out that delicate balance between dictating, directing and getting his own offense.

"I'm settling back, playing my game," Smalley said. "When the ball is in my hands, I can control what happens. I'm starting to become more aware of spatial timing, what needs to be there, what needs to be here, where my guys need to be, where I need to be. It helps me do what I want to do and play how I want to play."

The blowout victory set up Westview's second trip to the second round in as many years. Last season the Wildcats were a barely missed three-pointer away from the quarters. Smalley said Westview has to control the pace of the game against the Bruins, not turn the ball over, be patient offensively while maintaining that dogged redline defensive intensity. The Bruins can get hot in a hurry. It's on the Wildcats to keep the flames to a minimum.

"We pride our game on the defensive end, having five guys that can all defend any position and play team defense," Smalley said. "We have to cut away their top options and continue to do the things we do best: get the ball inside, defend, rebound and not let them do what they want to do. We've been able to keep teams away from where they want to go (on the floor) and take away their first option."

Barlow likes to run White off thickets of screens be it flares, pin downs, down screens, stuff to get the sharpshooter free from beyond the three-point line or in isolation scenarios. Smalley said Jamison would most likely draw the defensive assignment on White. However, Smalley, the rugged on-ball defender and All-Metro defensive back on the football field said he's going to be in head coach Mike Wolf's ear all week asking for the challenge of jousting with White.

"He's a lethal shooter, so really it comes making him take off-balance contested twos," Smalley said. "That's what we preach. If he takes a lot of those and we limit them to one shot (on the rebounds) then we have a pretty good chance. Making White uncomfortable, especially early because he's been on that stage before, is the key to our success."

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