By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
It seems that something special is building in Atwater.
Just listen to the words that Waterloo boys basketball coach Jason Wise used to describe his team’s current trajectory following Friday’s 47-33 victory over Garfield.
That is language that will bring a bright smile to the face of any basketball coach.
Wise is no exception and his pride is growing based on the perspective change he has watched his team evolve to.
“They want to win. They have matured to the point that they are willing to do whatever it takes individually in order for the team to have success,” Wise said. “Last year, I am not sure all of them were as focused on winning as they are this year.”
Now 6-2 overall, the Vikings are winning and as pretty as the team’s offense was at times on Friday, it was the group effort defensively that truly was the catalyst in the lopsided triumph.
All five Vikings on the court were engaged and disciplined throughout all of Garfield’s offensive possessions, which is not an easy task for the player and ball movement offense that has become so difficult to defend during Andy Olesky’s time as G-Men coach.
For the game, Garfield shot just 12-of-47 (26 percent) from the floor (26 percent) and 4-of-26 (15 percent) from 3-point range.
Shots near the basket were difficult to find for the G-Men and as an example of how well the Vikings’ defense kept the G-Men (2-7) from getting to the hoop in the first half, 16 of Garfield’s 19 first-half field-goal attempts were from 3-point range.
“I thought we settled too much in the first half, and we did not look to attack and be aggressive enough,” Olesky said. “At the same time, though, you do have to give Waterloo credit, because they really did a great job of closing in on us quick and shutting off our chances.”
For the Vikings, five playing as one defensively is evidence to the team’s growth process, with Friday’s game being the fourth straight in which they have not allowed more than 40 points.
“It takes five guys on defense for us to get stops. Every player needs to be involved, and we are starting to really work together,” Wise said. “A lot of what has helped our perimeter defense is the trust we have started to have for our backside help. That has been key.”
Meanwhile, Waterloo’s offense was calculated and patient. Rarely was a shot forced and with the guidance of senior point guard Navarre Alhassan, the Vikings deflected multiple Garfield defensive sets, including man-to-man, 1-3-1 zone and full-court pressure.
Alhassan finished with 10 points, but his imprint was a signature on the victory. He never came out of the game and for a player that could easily average 20 points per game, Wise said he has realized that his impact for the team’s success lives less in what his individual numbers are.
“Navarre is a really mature player,” Wise said. “He knows that for us to be as successful was we want to be, we need him to be more of a point-guard first instead of a scoring-guard first.”
Alhassan had six assists and was a maestro on Friday, especially when the G-Men went into a full-court press to start the third quarter. A series of effortless no-look passes from Alhassan hit teammates perfectly in stride for easy layups.
One of which came from just inside mid-court on the left side when he sent a no-look, left-handed underhand scoop on a diagonal pass that found a cutting Drew Flarida 60 feet away.
“I did not even see Drew on that play, to be honest,” Wise said. “I thought Navarre was going to throw it to Anthony (Podojil) in the corner. Sometimes you just have to say, ‘Wow’.”
Flarida scored a game-high 18 points and led the Vikings in the scoring for the first time this season. He shot 6-of-9 from the floor, was 6-for-6 from the free-throw line and had a game-high 14 rebounds. His performance was without any fundamental flaw.
“The strides that Drew has made over the last couple of weeks have been incredible,” Wise said. “It has been huge for us. He just works so hard, and he does so many things right.”
Podojil, the Vikings’ leading scorer, finished with 12 points and also had seven rebounds. Ryan Wise had 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots.
Garfield’s leader offensively was Aidan Hill, who finished with 12 points.
The G-Men struggled to find points throughout the game, scoring just single-digits in three of the game’s four quarters, including just three points in the first quarter and nine in the first half.
Garfield’s third-quarter press helped generate offense, with the team notching 17 points in the quarter, but even as it felt the G-Men were gaining steam, the Vikings still shot 5-of-7 from the field in the third quarter.
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