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Powder Valley’s Marcus Pratt (24) meets with Imbler’s Luke Silbernagle (10) in the lane during the first Old Oregon League meeting between the teams Jan. 11. The Panthers won that game 53-49. (NANCY CAMPBELL photo)
Badgers look to defend home court against Panthers
Round three of what should be at least a four-round bout is the featured game in the area when No. 3 Imbler travels to No. 2 Powder Valley Friday night.
These two teams are familiar with this scenario. Last season, they finished the season with identical records, 21-4. In league play, each team won at home. The big win came in the postseason tournament, a 53-39 win by Imbler.
The Badgers boys basketball team landed the first shot this season, a 77-48 win against Imbler at the La Grande Optimist Christmas Classic Dec. 28. However, Imbler won the most important of the two meetings so far this season, opening Old Oregon League play with a 53-49 win Jan 11.
“Imbler didn’t shoot well when we played them the first time,” Powder Valley senior Marcus Pratt said. “We didn’t shoot well when we lost to them. I think we came in a little overconfident after beating them by almost 30 points. They’ve gotten a lot better as the season has gone along.”
That won’t be the case Friday night.
“We’re going to be ready to play,” Pratt said. “This is a pretty big rivalry. We just need to move the ball around better. That was one of the things we didn’t do when we lost. And, we just need to finish at the rim.”
One advantage the Badgers will have is playing at home. It may be the biggest home-court advantage in the area. The bi-level gym leaves little room between the spectators and the players on the floor on the sidelines. The baselines aren’t any more forgiving. The wall on one end, and a stage on the other, offer a couple steps for players to put on the breaks.
“You have to be careful, that’s for sure,” Imbler senior Kyle Johnson said. “It’s tight quarters around the court. The fans are almost on top of you. It’s always tough to play there. That’s why they call it a home-court advantage.”
The Badgers are led by a host of seniors. Marcus Pratt and Jason Benites can hit from the outside, spreading the floor for the forwards to move around. Logan Allen and sixth-man Brock Jones are bigs that can spread the floor. Both are lethal from the baseline. Tyler Robinson is a force in the paint. He can play above the rim, which helps him own the boards against other players. Another advantage for head coach Kyle Dixon’s team is the bench. With Jones and Quinn Stephens capable of scoring in double figures, the Badgers have an advantage, and a safety net, off the bench.
The Panthers are growing each and every game. Court experience is the one thing Powder Valley has that Imbler is still working on. Co-player of the year last season Kyle Johnson gives the Panthers an experienced floor leader. Sophomore Trace Vancleave has turned into a reliable option in the paint. In the last meeting Vancleave held his own, finishing with 10 points and seven rebounds. Joe Griffin and Eli Bowers, role players last season, have begun to get more comfortable with the minutes they’re playing on the floor.
“Everyone was a little timid at first,” Johnson said. “Now were getting to the point where it’s easier to play together on the court. Trace is a great post presence, and Eli can stretch the floor with his shot. Joe is just an athlete. He can create offense with his defense.”
With all that being said, the winner will be the team that is able to play its style of basketball. Powder Valley likes to push the tempo, averaging 73 pointer per game this season, which is second at the Class 1A level. With Pratt running the point, it usually leads to transition baskets or open shots. Imbler on the other hand will try to slow the tempo. The Panthers average 53 points per game. Mike Mills half-court offense uses patience to find the open look.
“We were able to play our game in the last one,” Johnson said. “Powder Valley is definitely an uptempo team. It’s easy to get caught up in that. We just need to be smart, and play our brand of basketball.”
Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.