All the baby powder in the world couldn’t have made the game played Friday night in Lawrence High’s Jungle smell beautiful. But here’s the thing that generally goes unsaid about low-scoring games: When the word most often uttered as a packed gymnasium empties is “ugly,” that generally means at least one team played outstanding defense.
Such was the case in Lawrence High’s 49-34 victory against cross-town rival Free State. The Lions’ match-up zone defense, which looked so passive early in the season, at times created the illusion that they had seven defenders on the floor, guarding the ball, cutting off passing lanes and preventing drives to the hoop.
It’s so easy to get lost in the way Lions senior Dorian Green takes over games, as he did in the third quarter, that the steady improvement of the team’s defense can go unnoticed. It’s the biggest reason Lawrence (12-8) has won six consecutive games.
During the winning streak, LHS opponents have averaged 40.3 points. This from a team that lost games giving up point totals of 82, 73, and 66 (three times).
“It definitely is our defense,” Davis said of the Lions’ improved play. “We’ve always known we have the offensive firepower from the perimeter and when the defense takes that next step and we can keep the other team from scoring easily I think that’s the big key.”
Whereas early in the year it looked as if the Lions’ defenders weren’t always quite sure where they were supposed to be, so they more or less stayed put at times. Now the defenders shift properly without thinking.
“It takes time,” LHS coach Chris Davis said. “Especially when you play a match-up zone. It’s complicated. You spend the first half of the year kind of getting the concept in and once it clicks — we probably ran a dozen different defenses of a kind tonight. It’s a constant change and the objective is to confuse and to make the other team think. I was really pleased. The kids are really getting it now and it’s coming together at the right time. We’re getting a lot better at matching to the ball, and in this style of defense, you’re responsible for a different guy almost all the time and you have to be able to figure that out in your head and that’s what takes a while. Now we’re doing it pretty well.”
Green’s long arms result in deflections. The constant activity of Bobby Davis, a relentless pest, and the ability of Paul Eltschinger to arrive in time to prevent drives to the hoop also make the defense work.
A year ago, the Lions started the season 6-10 and finished it 13-12, losing in the 6-A state title game. Top-seeded Shawnee Mission Northwest, which Lawrence upset this season, will be tough to get past, but the way the Lions are playing defense, it’s not inconceivable to believe they can contend for the big prize. The coach wasn’t thinking that far down the road Friday. Instead, he enjoyed the moment.
“I like our students,” Davis said. “What a fun environment. I guess I just feel really lucky here. It has a fieldhouse feel to it. As good as you’re going to get in high school. My favorite moment of any game is when we have a Free State game and we’re singing our school song and they’re chanting their Free State stuff, I’m thinking this is as good as it gets.”