Sunset loss may be turning point for Newberg girls basketball team
LAKE OSWEGO — Few things, if any, went well for the Newberg girls basketball team during a 42-26 loss to South Eugene in the opening round of the Nike Interstate Shootout at Lake Oswego High School last week.
More important to head coach Luke Lindell, though, is what the Tigers did in the aftermath. That's why he told his team he thought it could be the turning point to their season if they responded in the right way, if they learned their lesson.
Although it didn't immediately translate into a victory versus Cleveland the next day, as a poor third quarter proved to be the difference in a 62-48 defeat, Lindell did get the reaction he was looking for.
The Tigers then followed up by blowing out Jefferson 54-14 and Sandy 52-30 to close out the tournament on a high note.
"We saw strides and that's why I like playing four games in a row in tournaments like this," Lindell said. "I thought from point A to point D, we were much better. The competition got less as we went along, I think, but I don't look at the competition. I look more at how we're playing. In terms of playing more efficient basketball, we certainly got better."
The frustrating part about the loss to Sunset, which saw sophomore Karly Fouche lead the team with eight points, was that the Tigers were so thoroughly outplayed by an opponent that Lindell felt it could easily be competitive against.
The team has played well for stretches, a quarter or two, in most of its games this season, even when it's been overmatched talent wise during a challenging nonleague schedule. But against the Apollos, Newberg was flat at both ends of the court pretty much from start to finish.
The Tigers stayed with the Warriors in the first half, though, scoring 16 points in the second quarter to make it a 27-26 contest at the break.
Newberg had a chance to take the lead, but misfired on a layup and Cleveland responded with back-to-back 3-pointers to push its advantage back to seven. The Warriors (4-5) eventually outscored the Tigers 17-6 in the third, with Newberg recovering to play them even in the fourth. Giselle Benetti paced the team with 12 points.
"That's kind of been our deal where we'll play a really good quarter or two, but we won't put them together, string them together, for three or four quarters in a row," Lindell said. "That's kind of been the deal all season and it continued in the Cleveland game, but it was more consistent than South Eugene, which was progress."
At least defensively, Newberg was dominant from the opening whistle against Jefferson, jumping out to an 8-0 lead after the first quarter. The offense finally got rolling in the second and the Tigers never looked back after taking a 25-3 lead into halftime.
Newberg forced numerous turnovers and controlled the glass defensively, which allowed the team to get out on the break.
"At least our defense was there to hold us through those slow times, which was good to see because it hasn't necessarily been the case," Lindell said. "But pushing the basketball, certainly, with the athletic group that we have, is going to be a priority. We have to play to our strengths and we know what our strengths are. It's a matter of getting more organized but also being able to know when to pull back."
Lindell was able to go deep into his bench and the team demonstrated the kind of balance and depth that has him feeling very optimistic about the future. Benetti scored 11 points to lead all scorers, but senior guard Maddie DeVerna and sophomore Lexi Morace added 10 points apiece. Three others — Fouche, Ashley Kosmick and Reneé Lee — each scored six points.
It was a similar story against the Pioneers, although Kosmicki exploded for 24 points, hitting three 3-pointers in a span of four possessions to help the Tigers pull away in the third quarter.
"I would have liked to have at least another game, but to go 2-2 and finish with two wins is a good confidence builder because they reap some of the benefits of the work they've been putting in," Lindell said. "They have been putting in good work and doing a good job, but we played a tough schedule. We tested ourselves."
Newberg (3-7) now heads back into Three Rivers League play, where the level of competition will be consistently high, but Lindell is excited about his team's potential, both for the rest of the season and in the long term.
"We have a lot of kids that are hungry and with young teams that's a great thing because that really drives competition and motivation," Lindell said. "They want to play hard for any minutes they get. So I love the position we're in. I don't like losing, but for me as a coach, it's exciting because the group we have is just going to get better and I think in the future we're going to be really good."