Wilsonville boys flex defensive muscle, pound La Salle Prep, 47-38
Either the Wilsonville Wildcats have one of the toughest defenses in all of Class 5A boys' basketball or they just happened to catch the La Salle Prep Falcons on an off night.
Or maybe it was a combination of the two.
Whatever the case, Wilsonville held the Falcons to six first-half points -- yes, six -- and rode John Roche's game-high 19 points to a 47-38 Northwest Oregon Conference victory Friday at La Salle's Brick Oven.
Caleb Larsen also scored in double figures with 12 points, and Zac Rosetti chipped in seven points as the Wildcats (9-5, 5-0 NWOC) maintained a one-game lead over Parkrose atop the league standings.
La Salle's Jace Norton scored all of his team-high 14 points in the second half, and Tabor Bosco had 12 before fouling out with 2:43 to play for the Falcons (6-9, 3-2), who slipped into a third-place tie with St. Helens, both two games off the pace.
"Playing a team like this and beating them on the road is a great feeling," said Roche, who went 4 for 6 at the free-throw line in the final 43 seconds to help seal the win. "Our game is trending upward, but we have a long ways to go.
"We just have to continue to get better every day and make the most of every opportunity."
Defense dictated this one from the start in a game that was too low-scoring to qualify as a blowout, yet was never all that close after Wilsonville jumped out to a 19-6 halftime lead.
Plenty of teams have rallied from 15-point deficits to win games, but La Salle struggled to mount any kind of run against a Wilsonville defense that made a concerted effort to take Norton, the Falcons' junior sharpshooter, out of the equation from the opening tip.
The Falcons got the lead down to 10 points once in the third quarter and three more times in the fourth quarter. They finally cut the deficit to single digits at 43-36 with less than a minute remaining, but by then it was too little, too late.
"We were spotty," Wildcats coach Chris Roche said. "I thought we were pretty good defensively the first half, but to La Salle's credit, we couldn't score either, so we really couldn't extend out of them much.
"The second half, we really didn't defend well at all. We just had a lead and held onto it. So, we didn't play perfectly, but this is a tough place to play, so it's a good road win."
The first quarter ended with Wilsonville leading 8-2 after the Wildcats held La Salle to 1-for-5 shooting from the field with seven turnovers.
The second quarter was more of the same, the Wildcats pushing the lead to 19-6 as they held the Falcons to 2-for-7 shooting and forced another nine turnovers.
All together, the Falcons shot 25 percent (3 for 12) from the field with 16 turnovers in the first half.
"Just a bad first half," Norton said.
Was it nerves and maybe a little anxiety about facing the defending Class 5A state champions for the first time since the two programs clashed in last year's semifinals in Corvallis?
"I think a little," Norton said. "We're all young. We only have two returning varsity players and we all knew Wilsonville is a big game, so maybe a little nerves got into it.
"In the second half, we played a lot harder. It kind of made us better, playing from behind. We just weren't able to cut it enough."
La Salle's 38 points marked the second time this season the Falcons had been held below 40 at home, following a 45-30 loss to Marist Catholic on Dec. 8.
"Wilsonville is always the game you get up for, and I think it's the same way for them," Falcons coach Sean Christensen said. "Both teams play a similar style in that we like to move the ball and screen and cut and do all those things.
"It's going to be hard defensively, because we know each other and we know what each other wants to do. Did I think it would be 8-2 at the end of the first quarter? No, I'd like to score some more points, but we weren't down by 10."
Once the Wildcats got a little separation at halftime, the hill got that much steeper for a young La Salle team to climb.
"Wilsonville defended the heck out of it, just like they always do," Christensen said. "Our guys needed a half to feel what it's like, because playing against Wilsonville varsity is hard.
"We're just young, and playing against them, you have to be physical, you have to cut really hard, you've got to screen, and you've got to do a lot of little things that a lot of these players are just learning how to do right now."