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The Tigers hope a strong start will translate into wins in Pacific Conference

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Newberg struggled to score against a stingy Tualatin team, dropping the contest by 30.

The Newberg High School girls basketball team is off to a quality start to its season, besting lesser opponents with ease while facing tough tests against top foes. The Tigers were 8-2 prior to Tuesday night's road matchup with Centennial (2-7).

Over the past few weeks, Newberg has won its own tournament as well as the Century-Hillsboro tournament, but lost a pair of games to Canby and Tualatin. NHS coach Luke Lindell said the results are a matter of opponent quality, but also health and attendance at games due to holiday obligations.

"We've had people in and out with illnesses and vacations, and we were still able to win despite that," Lindell said. "With the Century-Hillsboro tournament, we beat the teams we were supposed to beat, and Tualatin and Canby are a couple of the top teams in the state. I don't think we're quite at their level yet from a personnel standpoint, so that's where we're at.

"We're trying to find more consistency with all our players being healthy and being present. That's been a challenge over Christmas break and now we're looking to get back into a rhythm. When we play well and have consistency we can beat anybody."

Senior Sicily Hampton sprained her ankle and missed the Tualatin game, in which Newberg lost 58-28 to its talented opponents. The Canby loss was 72-53 and the victories for Newberg in the last stretch of games were mostly lopsided.

Lindell said the quality of Newberg's opponents beyond Canby and Tualatin has not been strong.

"We haven't played a lot of teams yet that are really on our level, which is a bit concerning because the games in league are going to be at our level," he said. "The key for us is to get practicing a bit more and developing in these last non-conference games."

Newberg is back in its regular routine and looking to get healthy before Pacific Conference play starts. After the Centennial matchup on Tuesday night after The Graphic went to press, the Tigers will head on the road again on Thursday to face Milwaukie in their final non-league game of the season.

Lindell said his team has showcased improvement in recent games but needs to step up its play before it faces league opponents. The teams in the Pacific Conference will be more formidable than their non-league foes, so the level of play has to be stepped up, he added.

"It's really about how we start those basketball games," Lindell said. "When you're not really used to the speed of the game and physicality of those teams present, it punches you in the mouth. We need to be more physically prepared and take better care of the basketball. When you're playing talented basketball teams that can score the ball, you can't keep giving them these extra opportunities."

The Tigers open up their league schedule with a road game at Century on Jan. 14. The Jaguars boast a large front line that includes a 6-foot-6 post player, which Lindell said should pose a challenge for a relatively undersized Newberg squad.

In order to achieve its goal of finishing among the top three in the Pacific Conference and securing an automatic bid to the playoffs, Lindell said Newberg needs to beat teams like Century who pose matchup problems. There are no shortage of talented teams in the Pacific Conference, he said.

"They're a physical team and we're going to have to impose our will against them," Lindell said of Century. "We need to utilize our speed and quickness to get out in transition. It would be great to start our league schedule out with a win."

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