By Jeremy Balan
Lowell High School head coach Rob Ray openly acknowledges that the style of basketball the Cardinals boys team plays is not all that entertaining.
But at this point in the season, style points don’t matter.
The Cardinals used their tried-and-true formula of a ball-control motion offense and a lockdown defense to take down defending champ Washington 41-33 in the first round of the Academic Athletic Association playoffs at Lowell.
Washington (16-16) held a 18-13 lead midway through the the second quarter, but the Cardinals (19-10) went on a 14-1 run in just over 9 minutes of game time spanning the second and third quarters, and Lowell never surrendered the advantage.
“At this point, it comes down to doing what you do best, and the type of game we played today is what we do best,” Ray said. “We’ve been planning on the [Lang Division] four seed to be Washington and we’ve been practicing for them. Our guys felt prepared when they took the court and played like they were prepared.”
No moment encapsulated the Lowell defensive effort more than the final Washington possession.
Trailing 39-33 with 39 seconds left and needing a quick score, the Cardinals cut off penetrating Washington guards, closed out on shooters and didn’t allow the Eagles to shoot take a shot until 20 seconds ticked off the shot clock.
“That was a team out there with it all on the line. A stop there and it’s over,” Ray said. “I’m really proud of that defensive stand there.”
Lowell allowed the Eagles to shoot just over 29 percent from the floor, but got most of their offensive production from forward Max Pollard. The senior scored a game-high 14 points, the first time he’s led the Cardinals in scoring all season, and took in 14 rebounds.
“My job was to shut down their scorer [Brandon Barnes] and I got a put-back early, and that got me fired up,” Pollard said. “All season long, I’ve been the defensive guy, so it was really nice to get out here and help the team out on the offensive end.”
The Eagles never trailed by double digits, but with Lowell using up nearly every second off the shot clock on every possession, single-digit leads in the fourth quarter felt insurmountable.
“That’s Lowell. They play great defense and they find weaknesses, and make sure you do things that you’re not accustomed to,” said Washington head coach Jolinko Lassiter. “It’s tough when you play 32 seconds of defense and hope you get a stop.”
Some of the Washington offensive struggles undoubtedly stemmed from Barnes, the Eagles’ second leading scorer, being in foul trouble throughout. The senior picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, spent most of the game on the bench and scored six points.
“For anyone in that situation, it’s hard to get in a rhythm,” Lassiter said. “It was tough for him to get something going.”
The Cardinals advance to the AAA semifinals next week, where they will face Mission, which took down Burton 103-87 on Friday. Tempo and style of play will be key again, but the high-scoring Bears will not be as easy to harness as Washington was.
“They know what we’re going to do and they know what we’re going to try to do,” Ray said. “There’s a little more open court at Kezar, so that will suit them.”
“I would say they’re probably favored by about 30,” Ray added, wryly.
Max Pollard – 14
Avery Nicastro-Aikman – 11
Jackson Miao – 7
Jonathon Li – 5
Two players tied with 2 points
Gordon Kwan – 10
Derek Pham – 10
Brandon Barnes – 6
Joshua Mua-Valaris – 3
Dane Vande Guchte – 3
Here’s another highlight video from our friend George Nguyen