“It was like a dense forest, man.”
That’s how Peninsula High boys basketball coach Jake Jackson described the defense his team played against Auburn Mountainview on Friday night.
“They couldn’t even drive their bike or motorcycle through the trees — there was just so much foliage, they couldn’t do anything,” he said.
Funny? Yep. A bit over the top? Sure. Was he right? Absolutely.
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The Seahawks are good enough to win a Class 3A state title this year. They might not be the most talented team in the state. They might not be the flashiest team in the state. They might not be from Seattle — á la the last four 3A state champs (which, by the way, doesn’t bother them).
“We’re from Purdy,” star senior JaQuori McLaughlin said after Peninsula’s 68-50 throttling of Auburn Mountainview on Friday night. “We have that Purdy grit.”
That grit — specifically on the defensive end — is what will make Peninsula a scary team in the state tournament. With a plethora of players over 6-foot-4, Peninsula’s length gives teams fits on that end of the floor. The most intriguing application of that height advantage manifested itself on Friday, when Peninsula stayed in a 2-3 zone the entire game.
The zone reminds me of watching some of Jim Boeheim’s zones at Syracuse over the years. Opposing teams know what they’re going to do. They know how they’re going to attack it. But with all the length and athleticism Peninsula has, it doesn’t matter how they attack it. It becomes a frustrating and sometimes useless exercise. At the college level, it’s hard enough to stick to the game plan and be patient. At the high school level, players are even more likely to start chucking low-percentage, outside shots when they can’t penetrate the zone.
Conventional wisdom says the best way to beat a 2-3 zone is to get into the middle. Most coaches will attack the zone by running some type of 1-3-1 formation, with the bottom player swinging to either side on the baseline. Once the ball gets into the middle, which can be a soft spot in the zone, things tend to open up. The player at the top of the key can shoot, drive to the hoop, or look to play high-low with the center.
But with Peninsula’s length, it’s hard for opposing offenses to even get the ball through the long arms of the defenders and get it to the middle of the zone. Once they do, they have a bunch of “tall trees” waiting for them in the middle of the key.
Peninsula went on the road at Auburn Mountainview on Friday night and held a potent offense to just 13 points in the first half. The Lions were absolutely stifled from the start.
Assuming Peninsula makes the 3A state tournament this season, which looks like a safe bet right now, the Seahawks will have their hands full with perennial title contenders such as Rainier Beach and Garfield. But those teams won’t see a team all season that plays defense like Peninsula does.
Peninsula won’t play 2-3 zone all season. Jackson likes to keep defenses guessing, and against certain opponents, man-to-man might be more effective. But when Peninsula is playing its 2-3 zone with good energy and quickness, opposing teams better hope they’re hitting their outside jumpers.
If not, they could be in for a long night.