December 16, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

La Grande boys basketball coach Aaron Mills remembered words of wisdom from his father Saturday.

The result was a remarkable 55-44 come from behind victory over Hermiston.

The Bulldogs controlled the tempo of the game early and led 25-13 with 1:10 remaining in the second quarter. La Grande trailed by 10 early in the third quarter before beginning its winning drive.

The surge was triggered by an adjustment Mills made at halftime. He switched the Tigers from a 2-3 zone to a man-to-man defense. The adjustment flustered Hermiston and allowed the Tigers to force turnovers and score a number of easy fastbreak baskets.

Earlier Hermiston had been able to operate a slow methodical offense and keep the Tigers from running.

This kept the Tigers from operating their fast breaking full court game. The switch from a zone to a man-to-man helped La Grande pick up the pace.

Our defense changed the tempo of the game, Mills said.

The importance of controlling the tempo is one of the things Mills father Gene has long emphasized.

I did what he would have done, Aaron Mills said, refering to his halftime adjustment.

Aarons father was a successful basketball coach for many years at Cove and Jordan Valley high schools. He was an assistant for his son last year at LHS and is now the head girls basketball coach at Prairie City High School. Mills is also superintendent of the Prairie City School District.

On Saturday La Grande opened the second half with a 14-4 run to take a 31-29 lead with 3:10 left in the third quarter. Hermiston rallied to take a 35-31 lead at the end of the third quarter.

With 2:20 left in the game Hermiston led 42-41 when Tyler Lester hit a three-pointer to give La Grande a 44-42 advantage, a lead it never relinquished. The trey was one of five Lester hit Saturday. All 15 of his points came on shots from behind the arc.

He put us over the top, Mills said.

Overall the Tigers coach was impressed with his teams shot selection, how well it worked together and its free throw shooting down the stretch. La Grande was 3-for-3 at the line in the final minute.

Hermiston 12 13 10 9 44

La Grande 7 10 14 25 55

Hermiston Barnett 5 3-4 13, Zabransky 5 2-6 12, Veliz 3 0-1 7, Haberstich 2 0-0 5, Holthus 1 1-6 3, Banker 1 0-0 2, Rodriguez 1 0-0 2, Cram. Totals: 18 8-17 44.

La Grande Lester 5 0-0 15, Bomberger 5 1-1 11, McMahan 3 0-0 7, Mellinger 2 2-3 6, Schuft 3 0-1 6, MacDonald 2 0-0 4, Pennington 2 0-0 4, Nebeker 0 2-2 2, Tucker, Moore. Totals: 22 5-7 55.

Three-pointers Hermiston, Veliz, Haberstitch. La Grande, Lester 5, McMahan. Fouled out None. Total fouls Hermiston 18, La Grande 19. Technical fouls None.