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Varsity basketball takeaways from the regional tournament

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Varsity basketball takeaways from the regional tournament

Senior Point Guard Luke Pluymen hugs his teammates to celebrate the 58-57 win against Wagner High School.

Senior Point Guard Luke Pluymen hugs his teammates to celebrate the 58-57 win against Wagner High School.

Veronica Mieres

Senior Point Guard Luke Pluymen hugs his teammates to celebrate the 58-57 win against Wagner High School.

Veronica Mieres

Veronica Mieres

Senior Point Guard Luke Pluymen hugs his teammates to celebrate the 58-57 win against Wagner High School.

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Not even a 36-point outing by Lake Travis junior Garrett Wilson was enough to knock off No. 2 Westlake in the 6A Region IV Final. The Chaps beat Garrett’s team, 76-60, to earn their first ever State tournament berth in basketball. For seniors Brock Cunningham, Luke Pluymen and Matthew Mayer, this moment has been two Regional Finals losses in the making. Last year, Westlake exited the tournament on a Daraun Clark buzzer-beating three for Wagner, and the year before, they lost 65-80 against Atascocita.

But this year was different. They faced scares in earlier rounds, escaping Wagner with a one-point win and Judson, 81-74, after trailing for large parts of the game, but when it came to the Regional tournament, they didn’t have as much trouble. South San insisted on holding the ball for minutes at a time and held the Chaps to a one-point, 15-14 lead at halftime, but Westlake was able to open up the game in the second half and ended up winning 45-23.

Lake Travis played up to the tempo Westlake prefers, but foul-trouble and junior Will Baker going for 14 points in the third quarter was enough for the Chaps to pull ahead and win comfortably. Learning from the lessons of their 11-point collapse last year against Wagner, Westlake closed out the game strong and never looked to be giving up their lead.

As we near the State tournament which starts at 7 p.m. Friday night with No. 17 Katy Tompkins and No. 5 South Garland facing off before No. 2 Westlake plays No. 10 Allen at 8 p.m., here are some of the notable takeaways for the Chaps from the Regional tournament and the preceding rounds.

 

1. Versatility in tempo

It wasn’t a pretty first half against South San by any means and it even prompted me to Tweet this out:

But from Westlake’s standpoint, being able to adjust to that style of play in the second half and running away to a double-digit win will make them confident that they can handle whatever other teams decide to throw at them.

This could be vital as the State tournament is scheduled over two, back-to-back nights, which doesn’t give the semi-finals’ winners much time to adjust to a new opponent. Allen, Westlake’s matchup Friday night in the semi-final, slowed down the tempo against No. 1 Guyer in a similar strategy to South San, except they were successful and won 40-36 on the back of guard senior Jerritt Dixon. If Allen chooses to employ a similar strategy against Westlake, they could be in for a shock. Matthew and senior Keonte Kennedy have shown discipline in guarding perimeter players in such a setup, and with their quickness, might be able to force turnovers and get out to a quick lead which would force Allen to start playing up-tempo.

On the other side of the spectrum, it’s no secret that Westlake can and loves to play up-and-down basketball. The only team that’s shown they can score with the Chaps thus far is already knocked out, Guyer, and against District opponents, both Matthew and Keonte had a field day when they were given a little space on the fast break.

With Will’s sneaky athleticism as well, it’s difficult for teams without similar size to match up defensively, especially when the big man is coming down with a head of steam or receiving an alley-oop pass.

 

2. Matthew Mayer could be the difference in the Final Four

Matthew has seemed like a brand new player in the playoffs, and while he didn’t do as much damage in the Regional tournament (24 points and 13 rebounds through two games), he was incredible in the earlier rounds and took over games along with Will. His playmaking skills have also been noted by Westlake head coach Robert Lucero, and he pointed to Matthew’s high number of assists throughout the season as well as his ability to create lanes with his dribbling.

From Matthew’s end, he says he’s looked to be more aggressive with the ball but doesn’t want to be too selfish, especially with so many other guys on the team capable of putting up points. It’s been an effective mindset so far, and it was evident in his 32 points and six rebounds against Churchill, followed up by 22 points and six rebounds against Judson.

The Baylor-commit adds yet another dimension to an already potent Westlake offense, one that teams have struggled to figure out all season. Whether it’s in the catch-and-shoot presence he offers or the playmaking ability with the ball in a team with other gifted playmakers such as Brock and Luke, Matthew will be a difference-maker against Allen and further if Westlake gets that far.

Defensively, he and Keonte have generally received the tougher perimeter matchups and so far have done well to avoid foul trouble while also limiting opposition buckets. Matthew talked about how important that part of his game will be going into college ball next year and noted that it’ll be a big factor in his playing time at Baylor.

 

3. Will’s a known and still unstoppable quantity

What else is there to say about this guy? He’s been tearing it up since the start of the season, and while his usage rate has gone up significantly this year with Lucero’s post-heavy offense compared to last year, all the potential scouts and reporters saw in him his sophomore year is being realized this year in his junior year. That’s right — he’s only a junior. There’s still one more year for him in high school, and God only knows the kind of insane statlines people are going to hear about from this kid next year.

He’s already established himself as one of the leading candidate for the Austin American-Statesman player of the year for the Central-Texas area, and 26 points and eight rebounds against Lake Travis in the Regional Final adds even more credence to an already stacked resume. With Allen featuring a roster with no players over 6-6, it’s quite possible Will ends up scoring 30+ points for the first time this postseason, and the only reason I don’t label him as the main difference-maker at State is because he’s more of a known commodity considering his stellar play all season.

 

4. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy

With the good, there has to be some bad. And that bad has been turnovers in bunches. Against Wagner, Westlake coughed the ball up 21 times, and against Judson, they had 17 turnovers. Those aren’t ideal numbers, especially if they end up facing an Allen team that decides to hold on to the ball. Guyer head coach Grant Long blamed early turnovers for their loss to Allen, and Westlake can’t afford to make that same mistake.

A little bit of ball pressure in the full court seems to be affecting Westlake, and while they made the necessary adjustments against Wagner and Judson, if Allen can vary their defensive looks and keep Luke and Brock imbalanced bringing the ball up the court, an upset isn’t off the cards. In the Regional tournament, Westlake did mostly a good job of securing the ball, but they also didn’t face much pressure from Lake Travis or South San. It’s unclear if those kinks have been worked out, but with almost a week to prepare for the State tournament, I’m sure Lucero will minimize that vulnerability.

 

5. Three’s giveth as they taketh

The other main vulnerability that Luke mentioned to me after their most recent game against Lake Travis and something I noticed in the two Westlake losses I was present for is three-point shooting by the opposition. Against Catalina Foothills, it was clear the five days off affected the sharpness on defense for guys like Luke and Keonte, and when the Arizona team was afforded a little space from behind the arc, they capitalized and shot Westlake out of the game at times.

Against most teams, it hasn’t been a problem either because the Chaps have scored at a high rate themselves or they’ve taken away the three-point line well. Judson shot 9-25 from downtown as opposed to 4-18 for the Chaps, and had the Rockets hung on for the upset, that might have been one of the narratives for the night. It was a similar story against Wagner, a team that shot just 4-12 from three, but Westlake was even worse at 1-10.

The Chaps should be fine, at least for the Allen game, considering Will should be getting the majority of touches on offense. They’ve also been mostly disciplined with what shots they take and pass up, and credit has to go to both Lucero and his players for willing to sacrifice good long-range shots for better inside shots.

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Varsity basketball takeaways from the regional tournament