Game plan works to a 'T' for Techsters
Things unfolded according to plan on Saturday night as the Benson Techsters stunned the Southridge Skyhawks 66-42 to claim the Class 6A girls basketball title.
That Benson game plan?
"I thought it was brilliant," said Tayler Lyday, a senior wing for the Techsters.
It sure looked that way as Benson picked apart Southridge's defense, stymied the Skyhawks' offense and ran away with the championship against a team that had dominated the state for years and was favored to win its third 6A crown in a row.
Southridge never led. And at times, the Skyhawks looked discombobulated.
What was the plan that enabled Benson to pull off such a resounding upset at Chiles Center?
On offense, the Techsters found holes in the Southridge zone by using 6-0 senior guard Ciera Ellington as a playmaker at the free-throw line.
On defense, Benson applied pressure full-court when doable but otherwise concentrated on making life tough for Southridge's star, 6-5 junior post Cameron Brink. The Techsters used a variety of defenses to thwart the Stanford-bound Brink, and her teammates weren't able to supply enough scoring support to keep the Metro League champions in the game.
And beyond offense and defense, Benson's plan was to just be Benson.
"I told the girls, 'Be the best version of yourself and you'll be fine, and they were," Techsters coach Eric Knox said.
That meant playing the game their way.
"When we play our game, we're perfectly fine. Nobody can stop us," said junior post Aujae Yoakum.
Benson's game is built around its quickness and ability to play at a fast, relentless pace.
"We weren't going to play Southridge's game. We were going to force them to play our game," said junior guard Bria Dixson.
The Skyhawks got caught up in the wrong game for them, Knox said.
"It was about pace, tempo and who was going to play their own style," he added. "And I knew nobody could play our style.
"If you want to play up and down the court with us, that's not a good look. They tried, and got burned for it."
In the half-court offense, Ellington was the hub. All told, she factored in more than half of Benson's points, scoring 20 herself on 8-for-13 shooting from the field and making 4 of 4 free throws, while getting eight assists, six rebounds and three steals.
"We'd studied Southridge a lot, and we knew by putting 'CC' in the middle and having her be the creator, we'd create a lot of problems," Knox said.
The Skyhawks like to play an extended zone defense, he said, and keep Brink near the basket to serve as a potential shot blocker and hard-to-beat rebounder.
Ellington's dangerous presence at the foul line with the ball in her hands forced Brink to make coverage decisions, though. Especially after Ellington opened the scoring with a pair of jumpers for a 4-0 lead.
It made Brink step forward just enough that Lyday and others could slip behind her. Ellington then was able to either drive or find her teammates with short passes for layups. She drove for a layup and 6-0 lead, fed Lyday for three layups behind Brink and then capped the first-quarter scoring with a jump shot just before the buzzer.
That made it 16-6 for Benson, and left Southridge looking dazed.
"We wanted to bring Cameron out, so CC can see the floor and either hit a jumper or attack or dish or go get a bucket, and she did that — flawlessly," Knox said.
Knox and the Portland Interscholastic League champion Techsters like to call part of what they generally do on offense "ping, ping, zip, zip."
"Ping, ping is passing the ball. Zip, zip is cutting," Ellington said. "It's just playing unselfish basketball."
Ellington accomplished that despite the presence of Brink.
"Her wing span is crazy," Ellington said. "If I try to drive, she's going to block it. So I tried to get her up in the air and get the ball inside. It worked, thankfully."
For most of the Techsters' nine layup baskets.
Benson also ran the court and looked for fast-break opportunities.
"We knew we had that foot speed advantage," Knox said. "CC is the fastest kid in the state, baseline to baseline. Nobody can stay with her 94 feet."
When on defense, Benson's game plan was "to maintain Cameron Brink sand stay dialed in to (junior guard) McKelle Meek and make other players beat us," Knox said.
Southridge didn't have enough firepower to do that. Meek was 1 of 10 from the field and scored just four points.
Brink still got 23 points and 16 rebounds. But they were mostly tough gets.
"We wanted to keep her guessing and bump her off her spots," Knox said. "We didn't give her easy drives down the lane.
"I think that all paid dividends."
Ellington and Brink were the only unanimous picks for the all-tournament team. They exchanged a few words at the quickie ceremony honoring the all-tourney team after the championship game.
"She said she looked up to me, and that means a lot," Ellington said. "On the court, it looks like we hate each other. But I respect her. She's a really good player, and I think she can do anything she wants to. I told her she's going to go kill at Stanford, and I totally believe that. She's a great player, and I expect her to be somebody big one day. I'm going to root for her."