CORVALLIS — By no means was the win pretty Tuesday night. But it was just enough for Bend High.
Despite committing 20 turnovers, the No. 6-seeded Lava Bears benefited from a poor shooting performance by No. 3 Central, and a late steal and layup by Kaycee Brown proved to be the pivotal play as Bend rallied for a 26-23 victory in the Class 5A girls basketball quarterfinals at Gill Coliseum. The win sends Bend to the semifinals for the second straight year.
“It doesn’t matter how ugly it is,” said Lava Bears coach Todd Ervin, “as long as you get the W.”
With their 13th straight win, the Lava Bears (22-4 overall) move on to play at 3:15 p.m. Thursday against No. 2 La Salle, which defeated the Bears in the semis last year en route to its second state title in three years.
“You come to play against the best, and that’s what you hope to get,” Ervin said of the matchup against La Salle. “Obviously they’re the No. 2 seed, one of the top teams in the state, and you want that opportunity. We’ll throw our best effort at them on Thursday.”
The Lava Bears, champions of the Intermountain Conference, struggled mightily in the first quarter against Central.
After Brown’s layup nine seconds into the game, Bend attempted — and missed — three shots over the next 7:39 and committed 11 turnovers during the same stretch. Still, after another layup by Brown with 12 seconds remaining in the opening period, the Bears trailed only 11-5 as the Panthers (21-5), whose 11 points all came off Bend turnovers, missed 8 of 13 shots.
“We knew that we just needed to dig deep,” Brown said. “We really wanted this win. But we knew that even with a bad start, we could recover. We’ve done it before.”
In the second quarter, Bend continued to turn the ball over and Central, the second-place team out of the Mid-Willamette Conference, continued its poor shooting. Yet the Lava Bears, even with more turnovers (16) than points, pulled to within 17-13 at the half by connecting on two of their final three shots while making 4 of 6 free throws for the quarter.
Brown continued to lead the way for the Bears with a layup midway through the third quarter, capping a 14-6 surge that evened the score at 19-19 and prompted a Central timeout.
The Panthers, though, went back up 23-19 as they held Bend without a field goal for nearly seven minutes. The Lava Bears hung around, however, as a Kylee Roath jumper was followed by a free throw by Cambree Scott to cut the Central lead to 23-22 with less than five minutes remaining. Brown then turned a steal into a fast-break layup with a little over a minute to play, giving the Bears their first lead, 24-23, since the early moments of the game.
“I wanted it so bad,” Brown said of the steal and lay-in. “I knew my team did. I wanted it bad for my team. I just took a deep breath and hoped it would go in.”
“She just came through beautifully,” Ervin said of Brown. “She’s just a real competitor. She made I don’t know how many great plays for us tonight.”
With 42 seconds remaining, Brown hit a pair of free throws to extend Bend’s advantage to 26-23. Central needed 30 seconds to attempt a 3-pointer, which was off the mark, and Bend held on for the victory. The Panthers, who shot just 23.9 percent from the floor, finished a miserable 1-for-18 from 3-point range.
“Our biggest mantra was to stay with it,” Ervin said. “Stay with the press break, stay with the defense, stay with the offense. You never know. They did that. We really struggled. We don’t have our starting point guard (Taylyn Hadley). She tore her ACL a week ago. We’re just trying to patch it together. We didn’t patch it together well tonight, but it was just enough.”
Brown scored a game-high 14 points to go with five rebounds for Bend, which committed just six turnovers in the second half. Kayla Rambo had three points and 12 boards for the Lava Bears, whose total of 26 points was the second-fewest by a winning team at the 5A state tournament since the state expanded to six classifications prior to the 2006-07 season.
Still, Bend’s effort got it through to the semifinals, earning a rematch against La Salle (22-4) with the chance to advance to the program’s first championship game.
“We know we have to work hard wherever we go,” Brown said. “But we need to work together as a team. … We need to calm down and work together and want it more.”