No. 1 Huskies win rematch, defeat No. 8 Lawrence 65-37 in state quarterfinals

The boys varsity basketball team defeated Lawrence High School 65-37 in the quarterfinals of the state tournament Thursday March 8 at Charles Koch Arena. Senior forward Joe Pleasant had 21 points in the win.

Ryan Blank

Gabe Swartz, Editor-in-chief

WICHITA– In a rematch of the 2017 Kansas Class 6A state championship, the No. 1 seed Blue Valley Northwest Huskies were able to avoid a potential upset from the revenge-seeking No. 8 seed Lawrence Lions Thursday night. The Huskies were able to control their state quarterfinal matchup throughout and move on to the semifinals Friday with a 65-37 win over the Lions.

“I knew that they were going to come in with revenge,” senior forward Joe Pleasant said, “and I knew that they are a team that when they get hot can shoot the ball well, so we had to come in and be confident in ourselves and just play together.”

Despite shooting 36 percent from the field in the first quarter, the Huskies got out to a 12-6 lead in the first quarter. Against a Lawrence team with inferior size, and plenty of capable 3-point shooters, Fritz and the Huskies elected to present a different defensive look than they had shown all season long. Even with a different defensive look, the defensive proficiency that Husky basketball fans have become accustomed to seeing this year was on display again at the state tournament. The length of the Huskies guards on the perimeter coupled with 6-foot-9 senior forward Parker Braun manning the top of the zone helped the Huskies clamp down on the Lions offense.

“Being 6’4” I have quite a bit of length, and it’s nice to be able to show that,” freshman guard Jack Chapman, who helped the Huskies defense force 15 turnovers on the night said. “Sometimes it intimidates [opponents] and they don’t really want to attack you, but other than that honestly it’s our bigs down low. It’s scary to get the ball in there.”

Lawrence High head coach Mike Lewis said the zone defense of the Huskies was something that took the Lions out of their game. The Lions head coach said his team knew what they were facing in the No. 1 seeded Huskies.

“We knew that it was going to be a big challenge,” Lewis said. “We knew that [the Huskies] have a pretty good team and are well-coached, and they’ve been playing very well. What they do defensively, and the way they handle the offense make them a difficult team. We had to play better early and give ourselves a chance, we just sputtered and were out of sync, and just didn’t play very well in a number of ways, and then once we get down 15-16 points, it’s hard to come back.”

After Parker Braun left the game with his second foul late in the first quarter, Pleasant took over for the Huskies offensively to extend their six-point first quarter lead to 16 by the halftime break.

“I just kind of kept up the same mindset,” Pleasant said of playing without his running mate Parker Braun. “I was going to be aggressive. Coach said we had to get the ball in early, so I was going to attack and get some easy looks. I just knew I was going to have to be more aggressive.”

Pleasant keyed a 14-2 run to close out the last four minutes of the first half, highlighted by a layup in transition in which the Huskies senior forward hung in mid-air and double-clutched a layup that gave the Huskies their first double-digit lead of the game, 23-13 with 2:40 to play before the half. The Huskies senior forward entered the half with 11 points and finished the game with a game-leading 21 points along with 5 rebounds and 2 steals.

“That’s just what Joe does,” Chapman said. “They had a small team and Joe took advantage of that. Every time Joe got the ball he made a strong move to the basket, and he put it in.”

The second half was much more of the same for this Blue Valley Northwest squad which opened up a 30-point lead in the fourth quarter when Chapman knocked down a corner 3. Although junior guard Christian Braun struggled from the floor shooting 4/11, head coach Ed Fritz said he was pleased to see the way Braun played as a distributor.

“When you’re 6-foot-5 and you can handle the ball and you can get down in there with the big guys, it really puts a lot of pressure on the defense,” Fritz said. “Christian is a work in progress, but he’s willing to do what it takes to win, and that’s what I’m really happy about.”

Braun said after playing limited minutes in the Huskies state tournament run last year, his first extended minutes of action on the Charles Koch Arena floor were a bit of an adjustment.

“At first it was kind of a different experience for me,” Christian said, “but [senior guard] Sam [Ward] did a really nice job of acclimating me to the game and helping me just get into the flow.”

The Huskies took their 31-15 halftime lead and extended it to defeat Lawrence by a final score of 65-37. With the win, the Huskies improve their record to 19-4 on the season. No. 1 Blue Valley Northwest will take on the No. 4 Derby Panthers tomorrow night at 8:15 p.m. in the state semifinals at Charles Koch Arena.