If asked to guess, most people would probably bet that a state championship tilt with a final score of 16-7 was contested in football or boys or girls lacrosse. Field hockey, baseball and softball might get some minority votes as well. But basketball? That seems completely out of the question.
Incredibly, that 16-7 scoreline was exactly what was served up in Oregon on Saturday, where Springfield (Ore.) High’s girls basketball team outlasted the Eugene (Ore.) Willamette High girls by nine points in the lowest scoring state title game at any level of Oregon basketball , be it boys or girls.
“We don’t care how we did it, we just won it,” victorious Springfield girls basketball coach Bill Wagner told OregonLive.com. “They did what they felt they needed to do and our kids had great composure with that.”
The result may have been what was ultimately important for Springfield, but the means by which the Millers arrived on top of the medal stand was a bit shocking, particularly given their offensive weapons. The Millers were led all season by Mercedes Russell , arguably the top junior girls basketball prospect in the entire nation.
In the regular season, Russell averaged 26 points and 16 rebounds per game , despite sitting out the final period of most of her team’s victories as scores ballooned out of reach. When playing for a state title, her entire team scored 10 points fewer than her personal per-game average .
What happened? The answer is simple: Willamette knew it couldn’t beat Springfield in an open court, offensive basketball game. Their only realistic chance to win, Willamette coach Paul Brothers reasoned, was to slow the game down to a crawl.
Brothers’ Wolverines did that and then some. According to OregonLive, Willamette literally held the ball — didn’t pass it, didn’t dribble it, just held it — throughout the entire second quarter until there were only six seconds left to play. That left the teams heading to halftime with Springfield up, 4-0, within Willamette’s goal of keeping the game within two possessions entering the fourth quarter.
Incredibly, the Wolverines actually hit that mark, staying within two possessions entering the fourth before eventually watching the Millers pull away. In the end, Springfield was lifted by Russell’s game-high seven points , easily her lowest game-high performance of the season.
“We’ve tried going toe-to-toe with them and that doesn’t work,” Brothers said. “Russell is just far superior to probably just about anybody around, so we felt like we had to limit her touches.
“I don’t like to play that kind of game, but I like to give our kids the best chance to win. We felt if we could keep the score down in the first half and then come out and hit some shots in the second half that maybe we’d be in it.”