Archive for Saturday, February 23, 2002

Wooden, Free State finish with flourish, 60-53

February 23, 2002

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— Free State High junior Keith Wooden didn't score all of his school-record-setting 330 points Friday night against Shawnee Mission North.

It just seemed that way.

Wooden, who scored 10 of the Firebirds' first 12 points en route a career-best 28-point output, became the squad's all-time leading scorer in Free State's 60-53 Sunflower League boys basketball victory.

"It was a goal that we set at the beginning of the year," said Wooden, who, with a field goal from the lane with 5:23 left in the first quarter, passed former Firebird Jess Criswell. "It's something I've been striving for all year long, so it feels good."

The Firebirds (10-10 overall, 5-5 league) have been feeling great of late, having won three in a row and seven of their last eight games. Wooden has dominated during the sizz, scoring a combined 74 points in the past three games.

"Keith has really stepped it up huge since the beginning of February," FSHS coach Jack Schreiner said. "He was the difference, without question. Basically these two teams were pretty even, except we had Keith and they didn't.

"If he doesn't get in foul trouble, he sets the school record."

Wooden, who was banished to the bench for about six minutes during the second quarter after being tagged with his second foul, finished just five points shy of former teammate Pat Krivoshia's school single-game scoring record of 33.

"It's a big win for us," said Wooden, who was 11-of-15 shooting and 6-of-7 from the free-throw line. "Now we get to host sub-state  that, and coach said we'd get practice off this weekend."

Actually, Wooden was only half right. The Firebirds' victory over the Indians had no bearing on Free State's right to host next week's four-team sub-state.

"The kids didn't know that," Schreiner said with a sly grin. "I told them we had to win to host."

The Firebirds will face Olathe East at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the FSHS gym. The winner will advance to meet the Lawrence High-Leavenworth winner at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The Lions and Pioneers square off at 6 p.m. Friday.

The Hawks are the only league school Free State has never defeated, going 0-7 against them. Then again, Free State had never won at SM North (10-10, 4-6) until Friday night.

"We're playing as a team right now," Wooden said. "Everybody's looking to get it inside-out. They're getting the ball in to me and I'm getting the ball back out to them and we're cashing in. We're playing real good."

The Firebirds utilized the inside-out offense to perfection with Wooden and senior Sam Strickler-Hut combining for 34 points down low and starting guards Andron Cruse, Neil Dougherty and Damian Harden going a combined 5-of-10 from three-point range.

Dougherty drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer of the third quarter off a nifty pass from Harden, giving Free State a 40-39 edge. The Indians opened the fourth quarter with a basket, but the Firebirds countered with two free throws from Strickler-Hut and led the rest of the way.

Dougherty chipped in 12 points on 3-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-4 on three pointers.

"I don't think I shot it that well tonight," said Dougherty, who was 4-for-4 from the free-throw line. "I hit some at some big times. It was all right."

Dougherty might have been disappointed in his shooting, but he was more than pleased by fellow junior Wooden's performance.

"This is, I think, something that we all expected from the beginning of the season," Dougherty said, "for him to be able to dominate games like that. It makes things easier, obviously."

Schreiner hesitated before admitting the Firebirds just might be playing their best basketball of the season.

"We're playing better, we're playing better  yeah, you're right, we're playing our best," Schreiner relented, "but I think we still have some more improvements that can be made, too."

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