Basketball: Gervais boys bring the offense in 97-80 win over Chemawa
It's been a while since the Gervais boys basketball team has played as well as they did Friday night against the Chemawa Braves.
Twenty years to be exact.
The Cougars beat the Braves 97-80 at Gervais High School on Friday in a game where nearly every player on Gervais had career nights to help move the team out of the basement in the PacWest Conference standings and into league playoff contention.
"We were hitting everything that we were throwing up," Gervais head coach Ben Schultz said. "Everybody was passing the ball. It was the best overall game by everybody. It just clicked."
Both teams were playing at a high level for the majority of the game. The first half was a back-and-forth shootout that saw the Braves take a 27-20 lead after the first eight minutes of play.
"Chemawa came out and shot the lights out," Schultz said. "They were 4-for-4 on 3-pointers in the first quarter."
The two teams played previously in the season, with the Braves taking a 77-66 win on Jan. 5 at Chemawa High School. After the first eight minutes of the rematch, it looked like Chemawa would once again bring its A game against the Cougars. But Gervais wasn't ready to lie down.
"We came in against Chemawa and they had a chip on their shoulder," Schultz said about his team. "We got down early, but none of them panicked. They came out and they stayed steady."
Gervais kept its foot on the gas in the second quarter, dropping 26 points to take a 46-41 lead into halftime. After the break, the Cougars blew the game open to the tune of 30 points, more than they've scored in several games this season.
Holding a 76-52 lead entering the fourth quarter, the Cougars traded shots with the Braves for the final eight minutes, with both teams combining for 50 points in a wild finish that had Gervais gunning for 100 points in the last 60 seconds.
"There was two times they threw up some 3s that looked good and I thought they would go in, but they're just going to have to settle for 97," Schultz said.
It was the highest-scoring game for Gervais since the 1997-98 season when the Cougars put up 97 against Neah-Kah-Nie. That's tied for sixth in the all-time record books at Gervais High School and a long ways off from the school record of 120 points scored against the Braves in the 1991-92 season.
Junior Pedro Villegas led the way with a triple double — 31 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Senior forward Nicola Zharkoff had 22 points, 14 rebounds, while junior wing Elvis Vallejo had 18 points and eight rebounds.
Alex Kalugin and Daniel Hernandez each had eight, while Noel Vasquez had six points before fouling out.
"Everybody else did well," Schultz said. "All the little things that don't make the stat book. Brett Gieselman, he's a big guy, slow, but he set big picks to get guys open."
As much fun as the win was, it had bigger implications in the conference standings, allowing the Cougars (3-16, 2-6 PacWest) to leap over the Braves (3-12, 1-6) for sixth in the PacWest, just one game behind the Scio Loggers (6-13, 3-5).
Scio beat the Cougars 43-40 on Jan. 23 to open the week, giving the Loggers the season-sweep over Gervais. But it was a marked improvement for the Cougars since their 22-point loss to Scio earlier in the season and a game in which Schultz felt his squad finished as the stronger team despite the result.
"We came into this week like it was revenge week. We thought we could take Scio," Schultz said. "We lost by three, but we felt we were far superior than that."
The loss helped fuel the team's victory over Chemawa, and the Cougars have been playing a much better brand of basketball in the past two weeks after starting the season 1-14.
First there was the 67-62 win over Colton on Jan. 16, then a home game against No. 4 Blanchet in which the two teams were tied at the half.
"They said, 'We're hanging with the fourth or fifth best team in the state,'" Schultz said. "They feel they can play anybody."
With last week's splits, the Cougars have just four games to pass Scio in the standings and play themselves into the league playoffs.
"We have to win at least two more to solidify us as a playoff team," Schultz said. "If we do that, we're in. But if we win one more, we have to hope that Scio loses one just to have a play-in game."
The biggest test will be on Thursday against Salem Academy, a team that has lost three of its past five games and is looking potentially vulnerable. Then the Cougars travel on Saturday to Jefferson, a team that had won five straight before falling to Blanchet last week.
"It's coming together," Schultz said. "They're going to come out there and they're going to try to win every single time. Anything can happen."