I admit it: I am a big fan of Kansas high school basketball. I like the college game very much, but if I were forced to choose between the two, I would choose the high school game almost every time.
My one reason for that partiality: The high school game does not allow a shot clock, and I couldn’t be happier. I do not like the clock and never have. It tends to reward the more athletic team and forces a homogenous style of play by both squads.
In my opinion it also lessens a key element of basketball: coaching strategy. To me, basketball is like a game of chess and the high school coaches move and position their players on their own personal chess board, the basketball court. The basketball chess game was in full view March 12, 2004.
In the second round of the girls’ Class 4A State Tournament, the Colby Eagles were matched against the Hayden Wildcats. The Topeka quintet, with a record of 21-3, was a heavy favorite. During the year, they had played in the ultra-competitive Centennial League in Topeka, and the team featured three players who upon graduation were headed for Division I basketball.
Colby, on the other hand, entered the game with a glossy mark of 23-1, but had not played competition as tough nor a team that featured three such prominent players. On paper, it seemed a certain mismatch. Had there been a shot clock, the outcome would have seemed even more certain. But thankfully there wasn’t one. Chess anyone?
Hayden predictably bolted to an 11-1 lead, but Colby remained faithfully committed to following a simple strategy.
“We wanted to limit them to four to six possessions each period,” Colby coach Tom Beckman said after the game. “That is about 20 possessions in the game, and if they make a couple of mistakes and then score on 50 percent of the remaining possessions, we have held them to around 16 points.
“Initially, it looked like the strategy was stupid and was going to hurt us. The girls battled and got us back into the game and eventually the lead at the half.”
Thanks to a 12-1 Colby run, the Eagles were on top at halftime and maintained a 17-16 edge as the final period began. With 7:49 left in the game, Hayden finally reclaimed the lead, 18-17.
Despite thunderous boos from the crowd, the Eagles stayed on script. They calmly held the ball for one last make-or-break chance. With just 18 seconds left to play, Colby made its move but was called for traveling. Hayden held on to win the game and eventually the state title. The combined 35 points was a tournament record for fewest points scored by two teams.
“I knew we could run with anyone and they chose not to, which was a great game plan in my opinion,” said Hayden coach Doug Finch after the game. “We were in foul trouble and I figured if we attacked, we would start putting them on the foul line. That would be to their advantage. I don’t play poker, but I felt like I rolled the dice and got lucky.”
As a spectator at the game, I couldn’t have been more impressed with the play. Both teams exhibited tremendous patience and confidence, not only in their coach’s game plan, but also in their own abilities to implement that plan.
Although many in attendance may disagree, it was a classic game, a chess match from start to finish, just like the college game used to be prior to the shot clock. Who would have dreamed a game of basketball chess could be so low scoring yet so suspenseful and entertaining? Me!
It was a most remarkable game from the basketball courts of Kansas Hoopla.
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