HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: Wildcats zoned in to make state run
Mountain View junior guard Lucas Brown took a knee to the face during a basketball game last summer, and has a sizeable gap in his smile to show for it.
He now wears a dental bridge to replace the two front teeth he lost.
“I’ll sacrifice my body for a ball any day,” said Brown, the Commonwealth District and Northwest Region player of the year.
It’s that gritty mentality, not just of Brown but of the entire team, that has helped fuel the Wildcats’ defense-first philosophy this season.
Mountain View (25–2) plays an unconventional zone defense, which has given most of its opponents fits this season. But it’s the disciplined and tough-minded approach of the Wildcats’ players that has led to the 23-game win streak they take into today’s Group AAA state quarterfinal game against Northern Region runner up Wakefield at VCU’s Siegel Center.
“We’ve been playing great defense all year,” said Mountain View senior captain Joe Wilson. “Our defense has been consistently getting better, and it continues to get better in practice.”
The Wildcats employ a 1–3–1 zone that uses a point man—usually Brown—to initiate pressure at the top, two wings to guard shooters and defend passing lanes, a middle man to protect against penetration and a post defender to guard the basket.
The defense stresses constant movement and smart, disciplined play. When executed right, which Mountain View has done consistently this season, the zone leads to a surplus of steals and easy transition layups.
It also leads to low-scoring games.
The Wildcats, who have forced an average of 21 turnovers a game (16 steals per game), have held 19 opponents to fewer than 50 points this season, and they have won 10 times while scoring 60 or fewer.
They have the ability to play at a faster pace, but they prefer to slow things down. Wakefield (24–5), today’s opponent, is a high-scoring team that likes to run in transition.
Something will have to give.
“They’ve got four guys that are averaging in double figures, so they’re pretty balanced like us, but they are more athletic than us, and that’s always a concern for us,” Mountain View coach Kevin Brown said.
“We can’t get caught up in an up-and-down game. That’s always a concern. It will be a battle of tempos, I think.”
The 1–3–1 zone hasn’t always been the calling card of Brown’s teams. He believes in adapting a defense for a team’s personnel, and he saw a need for the zone last season after an early-season home loss to Albemarle.
“I remember that game; we were in man-to-man and we were just getting killed, and I knew we had to try something different and started working on that,” Kevin Brown said. “I think that was really the turning point as far as our defense goes, and it really worked well after that.”
Brown mixed in the zone at different times last season and decided to use it as his primary defense this year.
The players seem to enjoy playing in the defense, even though it slows a game down and leads to a drop in offensive numbers.
“It’s a lot of fun because I’m out top and we get steals a lot and we just throw it up and get layups out of it,” said Lucas Brown, who averages 11.5 points, 6.5 assists and 4.1 steals per game. “I’m all for it, as long as we get the win.”
Though extremely balanced, Mountain View hasn’t put up huge offensive numbers this season—but that’s irrelevant to what what it’s trying to accomplish. Its only concern is continuing this great run it’s had this season.
“I don’t want to go home, honestly,” said Wilson, who is averaging 11 points per game. “I don’t want to stop playing. I love this team. This is my last year, and I want to go out with a statement.
“We’ve lost two games this year, and I’m not trying to make it three. I don’t like odd numbers.”
Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442