Mountain Valley Conference basketball opens Jan. 4 as the Creswell Bulldogs host La Pine, after finishing preseason play before winter break.
”We’ve got seven guys who have been playing a lot of minutes so far, so it’s been good for them to get a break,” said Creswell Head Coach Jesse Thomas.
The Bulldogs fell to host Sutherlin 38-59 on Dec. 19 but bested visiting Westside Christian 63-53 on Dec. 21 to finish their preseason slate 7-4.
At Sutherlin, Creswell struggled with shot selection against a taller, highly physical team, trailing 5-16 after the first quarter, 16-31 at halftime and 30-44 after the third quarter.
Creswell shot just 34 percent, with 17 turnovers.
”We didn’t shoot well; we were making sloppy, sloppy passes or driving into a couple of defenders and getting the ball taken away – and we were too impatient when we did get down there,” Thomas said, noting similarities between Sutherlin and Oakland the previous week.
”Like Oakland, they were long, physical and athletic; they’d pack in on us on defense and we couldn’t make a shot,” Thomas said. ”That’s where we struggle – against tall, athletic, highly physical teams. And then when you fall behind, it’s hard to stay motivated and our defense suffers too.”
Austin Gabriel led Creswell with 11 points and seven rebounds. Tayler Forsman added eight points and Kai Apo had seven points and six rebounds.
Against Westside Christian, the Dawgs improved to just under 50 percent shooting but were 2-of-13 from three-point range. They outrebounded Westside Christian 28-19.
The Bulldogs led 15-10 after one and 28-25 at halftime. They trailed 28-34 after Westside Christian scored the first nine points of the second half, but held a slim 44-42 advantage at the end of the third period.
”We let them hang around,” Thomas said. ”Again, our shot selection was questionable at best. We’d jump out, but every time we thought we were going to pull away, we’d make some poor decisions and they’d come back on us.”
The Dawgs finally stretched their lead in the fourth quarter. ”We got a few stops in a row and scored on those possessions, and Tayler scored a bunch of free throws down the stretch, with Kai hitting some too,” Thomas said.
Forsman finished with 22 points and was 10-for-10 on free throws. ”Tayler was really, really good all night,” Thomas said. ”He got to the basket all nig ht long; he didn’t take a single perimeter shot.”
Apo added nine points and nine rebounds; Gauge Smith had seven points and seven rebounds; Dallton Dewey had seven points and five rebounds; and Gabriel had six points and six rebounds.
”It was good to get a win going into break – good to get some of that confidence back,” Thomas said.
Looking ahead to league opener, Thomas said: ”Like us, La Pine is young; they don’t have very many players back who played many varsity minutes last year. They’re primarily a new team, like ours.”
He hopes the Bulldogs’ work over the break on running a more patient offense will pay off in that game.
”That’s the challenge for this group: knowing when to push on offense and when to back off,” Thomas said. ”We’ve got a lot of offensive talent, but we’ve got to learn to play a little smarter on the offensive end. If we can do that, we should get the opportunities and shots we want.”