Depending on your viewpoint, the St. Paul girls basketball team's 64-49 loss to Crane on Saturday falls into the category of one of two Rocky movies.
Either the Buckaroos are Ivan Drago in Rocky 4 and suffering their first loss in 50 games is both proof that they're beatable. Conversely, the Crane Mustangs could be Clubber Lang from Rocky 3 — an up and coming juggernaut, handing St. Paul a defeat that will galvanize the Bucks in the eventual rematch.
Regardless, it's no doubt that after St. Paul's 49-game win streak was snapped, the Bucks are going to use the loss as motivation for the rest of the season.
"They were pissed," SPHS coach Dave Matlock said. "They knew that they didn't play the normal defense that they could."
The Buckaroos have routinely been one of the top defensive teams in the state each year. Saturday's loss was the most points given up by St. Paul since Matlock became head coach for the 2015-2016 season and only the second time the team has surrendered more than 60 points in that time.
"They were upset with themselves for that and the girls know they can probably defend better than they did last night," Matlock said. "That's their pride and joy."
That's not to take anything away from the Mustangs, who assumed the No. 1 team in the OSAA rankings earlier this season and proved it on a neutral court at Bend High School. Crane (15-0, 3-0 High Desert) brings a potent center in junior Riley Davis and a bevy of perimeter players that can shoot the lights out when teams collapse on Davis. That's just what the Mustangs did against St. Paul, and Matlock gave them credit for outplaying the Bucks.
"One thing stands out is that they're the real deal," he said. "They were kind of a mirror image of us. They played better than us and played better defense, and I give them all the credit in the world."
Both teams were coming off big wins the night before. The Mustangs had taken down Four Rivers 83-24, while St. Paul handled Willamette Valley Christian 78-35.
Making the equidistant trip to Bend High School, roughly three hours away from Crane and St. Paul, the Mustangs packed the house, creating a state championship atmosphere with a raucous home crowd.
"You could see that last night, knowing we were defending champions," Matlock said. "They had everything to prove."
"That kind of rattled some of our girls who hadn't played in front of that noise. It just made them go a little faster, throw some passes they wouldn't throw. Just some little things. But they grew a lot in that process and hopefully state tournament time it won't be as intimidating."
Seniors Isabelle Wyss and Erin Counts had 21 and 17 points, respectively, to lead the Bucks.
And while the loss itself was painful in the moment, Matlock recognizes it as a new tool in the team's pocket to preparing for the coming post season. Although the Bucks owned the longest win streak in Oregon high school girls basketball coming into the contest, it was more a byproduct of the team's dedication to excellence than a goal in and of itself.
The 1A classification is top heavy by its nature across all sports, with a small handful of elite programs dominating a large number of average teams. During the team's win streak, the Bucks played in just five games decided by 10 points or fewer and their average margin of victory was 28.7 points. From a coaching standpoint, Matlock recognizes the loss for the value that it provides the team moving forward.
"It's tough when you don't lose to keep them super sharp," Matlock said. "This is really a learning thing that is a great motivational tool to spur us to work harder. It was good all around.
"It teaches you the level you play with and how you attack them offensively and what their strengths and weaknesses are," he continued. "This is an invaluable tool to immensely motivate us."
No. 2 St. Paul (18-1, 9-0 Casco) was scheduled to travel to No. 3 Perrydale (17-2, 8-1) Tuesday. The Bucks return home Friday to close out the week against Jewell (5-9, 1-6).
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