Three West Linn players step up for Oregon in Northwest Shootout
Oregon's best senior high school basketball players got together one last time on Saturday in the annual Northwest Shootout.
And right there in the middle of it all, battling against Washington's best at Liberty High School, were three of West Linn's best. Khalid Thomas and Braden Olsen competed for Oregon in the boys team's 140-135 overtime win over Washington, while Lion senior Kennedy Fulcher played for the Oregon girls in their 84-76 victory.
The Oregon-Washington boys game looked very much like an NBA all-star game, with players flying up and down the court, throwing down dunks and raining three-pointers with impunity. And in another similarity to the NBA's highlight contest, when Saturday's Oregon-Washington game got close down the stretch, the two teams got serious, bore down and went at it tooth and nail trying to lock up the win.
In the end, it was Oregon that pulled away with an 18-13 scoring edge in OT to win 140-135 — it was Oregon's fifth straight win in the series.
"I enjoyed playing with all the best players in Oregon," said Thomas, who will play next year at the College of Southern Idaho. "I will always remember the way we represented Oregon."
Thomas had a lot to remember, too, because he was flat-out great on Saturday. Thomas had 17 points in the first half to help Oregon rally from an early 22-7 deficit, and finished with 32 points on 12 of 17 shooting from the floor (including 7 of 8 three-pointers) and 1 of 2 free throws, seven rebounds, two steals and one assist.
"I feels good to finish big because I gave it all I had and held nothing back," Thomas said.
That was obvious throughout Saturday's contest. Thomas threw down a big dunk early in the game, flew in to finish another dunk on a long lob pass from Clackamas' Elijah Gonzales and knocked down "threes" from seemingly everywhere.
Olsen, who will play next year at Seattle Pacific University, was solid too, finishing with 11 points on 4 of 7 shooting from the field (including 3 of 4 on three-pointers), two rebounds, six assists and no turnovers.
Afterward, he said that the Shootout experience was about more than just the game itself.
"It wasn't about the basketball for me," he said. "It was about the relationships I gained and the opportunity to play with such good players. I learned a lot, off the court and on the court."
While Olsen's Saturday performance wasn't perhaps as flashy as Thomas', it was devastatingly effective. He was the fourth-leading scorer for Oregon and collected his team's second-most assists despite playing fewer minutes than all but four other Oregon teammates.
One of his best series came late in the opening half when he scored back-to-back baskets, first getting an open layin and then knocking down a three-pointer to bring Oregon within 60-57 at halftime.
In the second half, Thomas' marksmanship was especially impressive, drilling a "three" five minutes into the half, hitting another three-pointer after his own missed free throw seven minutes later, bombing in another "three" from the left corner to give Oregon a three-point lead with 8:09 left in regulation, then hitting a lean-back three-pointer with a Washington defender in his face to give Oregon a 113-110 lead with 3:14 left in the second half. After that last "three," Thomas ran down court with his index finger in the air and verbally sharing his "enthusiasm" with the Washington bench.
Thomas also had what might have been an embarrassing moment when he fouled Washington's Jaylen Nowell on a three-point attempt with three seconds left in the contest. Nowell went on to hit all three foul shots and sent the game to OT, but Thomas and his talented Oregon teammates made sure that foul didn't matter, pulling away behind MVP Isaac Bonton (35 points, seven rebounds, two assists and three steals) to win by five. Jesuit's Cameron Parker added 20 points and nine assists, and Clackamas' Matt O'Brien finished with eight points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
Nate Prior led Washington with 35 points and eight assists, and Nowell had 31 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
In the girls game, Fulcher — a 6-foot-1 post who will play next year at Concordia-Irvine in California — and her teammates came in determined to derail Washington's recent success. Washington had won eight of the past nine Shootouts, including last year's 103-61 blowout.
Fulcher did her part to make that happen, scoring six points, grabbing four rebounds, making one steal and handing off one assist in just 15 minutes — the fewest of any Oregon player.
"I felt like I played OK," she said. "I missed a few shots, but I had so much fun playing. It didn't really get to me."
Fulcher got her day started with a jumpshot from the left baseline (off an Aleah Goodman assist) at the end of a fast break to put Oregon ahead 31-17 with 6:20 remaining in the first half. She added another jumpshot from the right side of the free throw line (on a pass by Kaelin Immel) to keep her team in front 33-26 with 3:26 to go in the first half.
Then, in the second half, Fulcher forced a turnover, grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a putback to extend her team's lead to 73-62 with 6:20 remaining in the game. Fulcher also tacked on an assist to Immel as the Southridge senior scored from the baseline to boost the Oregon lead to 77-64 with 5:30 to go.
As great as all that was, the experience meant more to Fulcher than the final result.
"The girls were fantastic, to play with as well as just to be around. I had such a good time just enjoying this experience with them," she said. "Not a lot of players get to finish their season on a win, but I was lucky enough to be able to do that playing with and against some extraordinary players."