After splitting a pair of games to end its regular season schedule, the Newberg High School boys basketball team will face one of the top teams in the state in its opening round 6A playoff game.
The No. 31 seed Tigers (14-10, 8-4 Pacific Conference) will face No. 2 South Salem (21-3, 14-0 Mountain Valley Conference) on Wednesday evening in the state's capital.
Newberg lost 62-55 to Glencoe on Feb. 25 and beat McMinnville 57-45 on Friday. The Tigers were an automatic qualifier to the 6A postseason due to their second-place finish in the Pacific Conference, but they are the lowest-ranked team in the playoffs at No. 32 and are seeded No. 31 to ensure South Salem doesn't face a league opponent in the first round.
NHS coach Mark Brown said his team is feeling confident as it enters postseason play.
"We had a rough couple losses, but rebounded well and finished against Mac strong," Brown said. "It was good to have a good showing right before playoffs and get out of that slump. We had our best overall practice of the season on Monday with a lot of really good, focused, intense segments.
"I feel like our guys are ready for the challenge of going on the road and competing in a playoff game. South Salem is good and has a lot of really good athletes, many of them seniors. Their physical ability will be a challenge and they've won a lot of games."
The Saxons have won 14 consecutive games and only lost one game to a team from Oregon all season. Their other two losses are to teams from California and Georgia, and the lone loss in Oregon was to No. 12 Tigard on Jan. 10.
Brown said he and his players have studied the film of that Tigard game and uncovered some key points that will help Newberg in its pursuit of an upset.
"What Tigard was able to do is get South Salem into the half court and didn't let them generate offense in transition," Brown said. "That is one of our priorities and we've been focusing on that in practice. They want to turn you over and create advantages in transition and Tigard was able to force them into the half court for much of that game."
South Salem is a senior-heavy team with plenty of size and athleticism. Six-foot-seven junior forward Nick Zuro is a load inside and plays above the rim; Brown said containing him will be one of the Tigers' primary focuses. Newberg also wants to limit transition opportunities for South Salem's speedy guards and prevent an onslaught from three-point territory – much how Brown and company game planned against league foe Sherwood.
"They're going to want to play up and down, press us and shoot a lot of threes," Brown said. "They really rely on their athletes to generate plays and make stuff happen. Our challenge is we have to be more disciplined and protect the ball. Everything we do has to be with purpose and under control."
Newberg vs. South Salem tips off at 7 p.m. Wednesday at South Salem High School, 1910 Church St. The cost of attendance is $8 for adults and $5 for students.
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