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Aro’s three takeaways from Thanksgiving hoops

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Before the season started, Westlake head coach Robert Lucero told me his team wasn’t playing for their win-loss record. It was about the process to get better every game and learn something new in both wins and losses.

That attitude doesn’t seem to have changed after a disappointing loss to Denton Guyer Saturday evening in the Duncanville Thanksgiving Hoopfest, 83-72, which set the Chaps back to 5-1 overall in the season. Although always a calm and collected interview, win or lose, Lucero was surprisingly optimistic in his post-game thoughts while congratulating Guyer on a good performance and saying how his team would bounce back in Tuesday’s game against Anderson.

Similarly, senior Brock Cunningham, typically one of the more outspoken players who leaves it all out on the court, was confident the early season setback wouldn’t be a hindrance later in the year.

“You live and you learn,” he said, while adding that the Chaps would be better the second time around against Guyer, presumably in the playoffs.

From what I’ve seen in these first six games, I have to agree with the assessment of Lucero and Brock. Westlake didn’t look good against Guyer by any means and not only missed open shots, but also struggled to get into a rhythm offensively at times. But despite that, they still put up 72 points on what is now the No. 2 team in the state, which shows to me this team, when it’s firing on all cylinders, has the caliber to be the best team in the state.

 

1) Will Baker is defensive hell for every single team in the state.

As Eric Bossi put it on the sidelines at the Westlake-Guyer game, it would take something going very wrong for Will Baker to not end up in the NBA. And it’s not hard to see why when watching him play. At 6-11, he has more grace in the post than a lot of guys that don’t have the same frame as him. This makes him an instant mismatch against almost any big in the state, and with the strength and aggressiveness he’s added over the summer, he scores almost at will down low.

He had a strong Thanksgiving weekend, following up a 23-point, seven rebound effort against Katy Tompkins in a 82-62 win with a 22-point, three rebound game against Guyer. He was the highest Westlake scorer in both games and did it efficiently as well, shooting 8-12 and 7-11 from the field respectively in the two games.

 

2) They’re shooting the three-ball well.

It wasn’t enough for them to beat Guyer, but the Chaps went 10-22 from behind the three-point arc on Saturday, not atypical to their shooting from that range the rest of the season. With all five starters, even Will, capable of knocking down shots from deep, the team is never really out of the game. They utilized that and high pressing and trapping schemes to bring the Guyer lead down to just six after starting the fourth quarter down 15 points, and although Guyer’s offense picked up the slack to end the game, there were a few scary moments for the Wildcats in closing out the game.

Even just the presence of having great three-point shooters has opened up the floor for Westlake. Guyer was forced to play everyone tight in the perimeter, and that allowed Will to work better outside. Uncharacteristically, the ball movement of the Chaps wasn’t quite as crisp as it has been the rest of the season, and they weren’t able to exploit the defense for more open looks. But against Anderson tomorrow, I would once again expect Westlake to tear it up from downtown.

 

3) The defense will improve and Lucero has shown time and again that it’s his focus.

I didn’t like what I saw defensively from Westlake for large stretches of the game on Saturday, but it was the opposite in Wednesday’s game against Katy Tompkins. Guyer attacked the rim a lot more than Tompkins did, and it was effective. Brock and Will, especially the latter, played surprisingly weak roles in protecting the rim, but at the same time, credit has to be given to De’Vion Harmon and Jalen Wilson and the rest of the Wildcats team for finishing well near the basket. They made some tough layups, but the defending definitely wasn’t up to what this Westlake team is capable of.

I said in my first column a couple weeks ago that Westlake’s defense was where they particularly looked like a State Championship winning caliber team. Maybe I was wrong about that, but it was just one game, so there’s no need to overreact. They come out of their two toughest matchups so far with a 1-1 record and fought hard in the loss which is a promising sign for the future. With the talent on the team and hard-nosed coaching by Lucero, there’s no reason this team shouldn’t be a whole lot better when the postseason arrives. 

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STUDENT NEWS SITE OF WESTLAKE HIGH SCHOOL
Aro’s three takeaways from Thanksgiving hoops