Top-ranked Bucks advance to quarterfinals
With a 57-22 win over the Adrian Antelopes in the second round of the 1A state playoffs on Saturday, the St. Paul girls basketball team enters the quarterfinal tournament in Baker City this weekend with a giant target on its back.
The top-ranked Buckaroos (27-0, 16-0 Casco League) are the lone team in the state at any level who carry an unbeaten record into the playoffs, but head coach Dave Matlock feels comfortable that his team has the mental maturity not to take anything for granted at this late stage of the season.
"We try not to look too far ahead," Matlock said. "The girls understand that very well. They don't want to talk about the state tournament down the road. They just want to take one game at a time and earn it."
Such was the case on Saturday at St. Paul High School, when the Bucks were hosting the Antelopes (14-14, 9-4 High Desert League) and looking up at a tight 3-1 lead after the opening four minutes.
The state playoffs were the furthest thing from the collective minds of the Buckaroos, who were more interested in knowing where their next bucket was going to come from. But once the offense started coming, it was tough for Adrian to shut it off, and St. Paul built a 22-3 lead in a matter of minutes.
"It was really bizarre," Matlock said. "We couldn't hit a shot, then all of a sudden the flood gates opened."
Now that the Bucks have firmly cemented their place in the quarterfinals, the team continues to take the cliche'd one-game-at-a-time attitude. In part because that's how the team has succeeded this season, but also due to the fact that Matlock has little idea of which teams will advance to the semifinal and championship rounds.
"There is no clear-cut favorite," Matlock said. "Every one of them could win. Whoever performs, executes and makes shots will win."
Seven of the eight remaining teams enter the quarterfinals with 20-plus wins, including St. Paul's opening opponent on Thursday — No. 9 Joseph Eagles (25-3 12-0 Old Oregon League).
The reigning 1A state champions, Joseph lost to St. Paul 40-32 during the regular season, one of two opponents to play the Buckaroos to within single digits this season.
Matlock knows his team will have its hands full against the Eagles' brutally difficult press defense and is hoping to outrun them in the second half.
"They're extremely quick and extremely smart and well-coached," Matlock said. But, he noted, "They only play six girls. Though they're very athletic, they get tired. If we can be right there at halftime, I like our chances in that game."
The 2019 1A girls basketball state championships will be held on Feb. 28-March 2 at Baker High School. To follow the results, go to http://www.osaa.org/activities/gbx/brackets.