By Jeremy Balan
While the Academic Athletic Association’s loaded Lang Division battles it out, Lowell High School has quietly taken control of the Neff Division with a 44-33 win over visiting Wallenberg on Tuesday.
Both teams entered the game undefeated in AAA play, but with the win, the Cardinals (13-5, 5-0) now sit alone atop the division.
“It was definitely our first test,” said Lowell head coach Rob Ray. “We’re starting to get an identity and we haven’t had one for a long time.”
That new-found identity, at least early in AAA play, has been a stingy defense, and the Cardinals have allowed just 31 points per game in league play and just over 40 points per game on the season.
Tuesday was no different, as the Cardinals’ tight zone defense held the Bulldogs to just over 31 percent shooting from the floor and frustrated a Wallenberg (7-7, 4-1) team that relies heavily on solid play from its frontcourt.
“We didn’t know, going in, what we were going to play. We really haven’t played zone all year long and we may never again,” Ray said with a wry smile. “They wanted to dump it down to their big guys, so we tried to accommodate that area with the zone.”
Wallenberg senior forward Aaron Brown, who just joined the team after missing most of the early season, had a game-high 13 points off the bench, but no other Bulldogs finished scoring in double figures.
“I felt like Lowell did a wonderful job of preparing and executing their game plan, and that wasn’t the case with us,” said Wallenberg head coach Patrick Mulligan. “When you don’t prepare as well as you should and when you don’t come prepared as you should, that reflects in your play.”
Lowell juniors Jackson Miao and Avery Nicastro-Aikman led the way for the Cardinals with 10 points apiece, and fellow junior Max Pollard added nine points off the bench, but when Wallenberg appeared to be making inroads after a 37-22 third-quarter deficit, the Cardinals used a bit of strategy to put the game away.
The Cardinals used up nearly all of the shot clock on each offensive possession in the fourth, limiting any chance of a Wallenberg comeback, and at one point held the ball for nearly two minutes after key offensive rebounds.
“We didn’t want to let them back in the game,” Ray said. “We knew they were capable of getting back in it, so we limited their chances.”
While the Cardinals have feasted on a relatively weak early AAA schedule, they begin a tough six-game stretch through the Lang division, beginning Friday with a matchup against rival Washington, one of the league favorites.
“There’s a lot of strength over on that other side and we’re hoping to go in and do what we do, and whatever the score is at the end, we’ll be OK with that,” Ray said.
Jackson Miao – 10
Avery Nicastro-Aikman – 10
Max Pollard – 9
Ricco Price – 7
Two players tied with 3 points
Aaron Brown – 13
Ronnie Campbell – 8
David Li – 4
Nick Smith – 4
Two players tied with 2 points