March 05, 2001 11:00 pm

By C.J. Gish

Observer Staff Writer

CORVALLIS La Grande had to scrape together every bit of defense it had Monday to fly by the Seaside Seagulls.

Playing with a sputtering first-half offense, the Tiger girls basketball team kept itself alive in the championship bracket with a 42-33 first-round victory at the OSAA-U.S. Bank Class 3A State Tournament.

We just want to call this a warm-up game, La Grande senior guard Elise Myer said. We were a little nervous.

Playing at Oregon State Universitys Gill Coliseum, under the bright lights and in a larger gym, meant the transition from nervousness to relaxation wasnt easy for the Tigers (19-7).

Its funny. You tell the girls something in a timeout or at halftime and in this atmosphere it goes right out the window, La Grande coach Isaac Williams said.

But even if the shots werent falling, especially during a first half that saw La Grande shoot 27 percent (6-for-22) from the field to Seasides 35 percent (7-for-20), it was the defensive side of the ball that propelled the Tigers into the quarterfinals. La Grande will play top-ranked Marist at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

The Tigers grabbed an 8-5 lead with a Christie Weaver layup after she stole the ball off a Seaside inbounding pass. Myer added two free throws a minute later for a 10-7 edge.

The taller Seagulls team, which featured 6-foot-2 senior post Jessica Heslop and 5-10 senior post Hannah Kraske, made life miserable under the basket for the Tigers. Seaside (17-8) outrebounded La Grande 42-28, including 19-10 on the offensive boards. The height, though, didnt translate into more points in the paint for the Seagulls.

Seaside went on to take a 13-10 lead by the end of the first quarter, and increased it to 15-10 when Brittany Brigham nailed a perimeter shot early in the second quarter. From there, it was a battle of turnovers for more than two minutes.

Amanda Schuft got La Grande going from there. Coming off the bench, Schuft hit a baseline jumper and used a Seagull turnover to make a layup. With 1:02 left in the quarter, Schuft knocked down a 3-pointer after Seaside was called for carrying the ball. Lindsey Carmichael added a free throw with eight seconds to go in the half for an 18-15 lead.

When things were slow in the first half, Amanda came off the bench and was great. She gave us a spark and everyone followed her lead, Williams said.

Schuft, who ended the game with 11 points, saw plenty of time in the first half since starting point guard Karli Nebeker was on the bench with three fouls.

I just look (to shoot) when I have something. I dont come into the game looking to score, said Schuft, who entered the game averaging 3.2 points a contest.

The halftime speech was directed to the offense attack the basket.

Weaver responded with a driving layup 14 seconds into the half, followed by a jumper 35 seconds later. The emphasis on offense led to a better half shooting for the Tigers, who went 9-of-22 for 41 percent from the field while Seaside hit 6-of-20 for 30 percent.

All we talked about (at halftime) was be more aggressive and take it to the basket, Weaver said. We started a little bit slow (in the first half), being in a new gym.

Seaside went on a 10-2 run to go ahead 25-24, but La Grande went ahead for good when Myer tied the game on a free throw and then stole the ball near the end of the third quarter. The steal resulted in a Schuft 3-pointer. Carmichael followed on La Grandes next possession with a 3-pointer for a 31-26 lead.

The final quarter belonged to the Tigers, who held off numerous Seaside charges but never let the Seagulls get closer than five points. It helped that Seaside missed seven of nine free throws in the period.

Weaver ended with a game-high 14 points and three steals. Schuft had six rebounds and two steals, Myer scored nine points and had four rebounds and two steals. Carmichael added six points and four assists. Shalece Hibbert had two steals.

Seaside didnt have anyone score in double digits. It was led by Ginny Soller and Kraske with seven points apiece. Kraske added 12 rebounds and two steals, Soller had three assists and five rebounds.

Seaside girls 13 2 11 7 33

La Grande 10 8 13 11 42

Seaside Soller 3-11 1-2 7, Teeple 1-6 1-2 3, Flukinger 2-5 1-2 5, Kraske 3-5 1-5 7, Heslop 1-3 0-0 2, Mizell 2-5 0-2 4, Brigham 1-3 0-2 2, Darling 0-2 3-7 3. Totals: 13-40 7-22 33.

La Grande Weaver 7-14 0-0 14, Carmichael 1-6 3-4 6, Myer 2-7 4-7 9, Nebeker 0-3 0-0 0, Hibbert 1-3 0-0 2, Schuft 4-8 1-4 11, Sternfeld 0-2 0-0 0, Williamson 0-0 0-2 0. Totals: 15-44 8-17 42.

Three-pointers Seaside 0-6 (Soller 0-2, Teeple 0-2, Flukinger 0-1, Brigham 0-1), La Grande 4-13 (Schuft 2-3, Carmichael 1-4, Myer 1-3, Weaver 0-3). Total fouls Seaside 15, La Grande 20. Fouled out Soller, Nebeker. Technical fouls None. Turnovers Seaside 28, La Grande 18. Rebounds Seaside 42 (Kraske 12), La Grande 28 (Schuft 6). Assists Seaside 8 (Soller 3), La Grande 11 (Carmichael 4). Blocked shots Seaside 3 (Soller, Teeple, Heslop), La Grande 3 (Nebeker, Schuft, Williamson). Steals Seaside 8 (Teeple 2, Kraske 2), La Grande 10 (Weaver 3).