Cougar boys can't outrun league favorites

"In some ways, and at some times, the Central Kitsap High School boys basketball team looked very close in ability to league favorite Port Townsend.In other ways and at other times, there was a gap a mile wide.The Townsends were able to translate the differences into a 67-58 victory Tuesday night when the two teams opened their Olympic League season at Central Kitsap.“I’m a little down right now, and the kids are down,” said CK coach Tim Dower after the Cougars dropped their second start this season against one victory (going into Friday night’s road contest at Port Angeles). “We know we can play at this level. We just didn’t execute very well tonight.”The Cougars, who totaled just three wins in 1998-99, looked several times to be on the verge of making a statement about their Y2K season. After falling behind by as much as 12 points in the second quarter, they put together several strong stretches to push themselves back into contention.For every push, though, there was a backslide.“I just wish,” a frustrated Dower said, “we’d be more consistent.”Of the Cougars’ chances to overtake Townsend, their last and best came at the dawn of the fourth quarter. Casey Gribble’s short jumper put PT ahead 42-36, but Quinton Smith answered with the first of his two 3-point baskets from the top of the lane to slice the deficit to a paltry trio of points.But then the CK offense went quiet, allowing Port Townsend to go on an 11-1 surge. During that fatal spurt, the Cougars were 1 for 4 from the free throw line and wasted a couple attacking opportunities with turnovers. After Smith’s trey, they went 3 minutes, 10 seconds before hitting another field goal — another 3-ball by Will Pence.Central never got closer than seven points again, on Smith’s second trey with 2:25 to go. But Silas Holm, who scored 19 points to tie teammate Ben Jaynes for game honors, countered with a jumper and Gribble drove the left baseline for a layup to put the game out of reach.The Cougars scored first, Emmanuel Johnson hitting a layup just seven seconds into the contest, but immediately went into a miserable offensive funk as Townsend eased away to a 14-4 lead. When Greg Caldwell’s double-pumper in the lane made it 23-11 three minutes into the second quarter, it might’ve been the signal for CK to circle the wagons and prepare for a long second half.Instead, the Cougars outscored PT 15-6 the rest of the quarter — eight of those points coming from Pence — and went into the intermission down by only two, 29-27.Pence finished with 18 points, Smith adding 13 and Johnson 10.“We’ve been looking for Will to be an offensive threat this season,” Dower said of the 6-foot-3 junior. “He’s probably our best all-around player.”As a team, though, the Cougars ran hot and cold on the attack.“The tempo favored us,” Dower said of the often-frantic pace, “but we didn’t execute properly. Our offense needs a lot of work.”Dower said he might try to open things up more the rest of the season, allowing his players to use their quickness and skills in a more freewheeling offense.“We might go to the good old passing game,” he said. “That might work better for this group of guys, instead of the ‘You go here, you go there’ set offense. It’s worth a try. That would at least make teams guard all five of our players.“Right now, our offense couldn’t get much worse,” he shrugged.Port Townsend, playing its first full-length game of the season, was anything but crisp much of the game against a ballhawking CK defense. But the visitors — built around a core of four players who scored all but seven of their points — did enough things right to emerge with the victory.Meanwhile, the Cougars were hurting themselves with unforced errors and missing 10 of their 21 free throw opportunities.“That was one of the bigger points of the game,” Dower said. “Free throws really were our Achilles heel tonight. They (the Townsends) don’t miss free throws.”Actually, PT wasn’t much better from the stripe than Central, hitting 9 of 16. But they got all but two of their chances after halftime, and were 6 for 8 during the key fourth-quarter stretch when they were putting the Cougs down once and for all."

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