Ashland High boys basketball coach Larry Kellems remembers fondly the night Billy Hansen the sophomore emerged as Billy Hansen the all-star caliber, cold-blooded-shooting go-to player.
Ashland High boys basketball coach Larry Kellems remembers the night Billy Hansen the sophomore upstart emerged as Billy Hansen the all-star caliber, cold-blooded-shooting go-to player.
It was Dec. 28, and the Grizzlies were facing Mountain View, then ranked No. 2 in the state (now No. 3). With Ashland shorthanded by injuries and absences, Hansen was thrust into a crucial role as one of the team's top scoring options.
He wound up scoring 24 points.
In the first half.
The Grizzlies ended up losing that game in overtime — Hansen finished with 28, and Ashland blew a double-digit lead — but they left with a couple valuable pieces of information:
1. Even shorthanded, they could compete with one of the best teams in the state, and "¦
2. Hansen, sophomore or not, could do more than just handle pressure. He seemed to thrive on it.
"At that point, I went, 'Holy cow, this kid's the real deal,'" Kellems recalls. "That's amazing for a sophomore as far as I'm concerned. And they were face-guarding him, too."
Now two months later Grizz opponents are still face-guarding Hansen, and he's still lighting them up as Ashland heads into its second-round Class 5A playoff game against Glencoe. The sixth-ranked Grizzlies (18-8), winners of the Southern Sky Conference, will host the fifth-ranked Crimson Tide (15-8), the second seed out of the Northwest Oregon Conference, Saturday night at Mountain Avenue Gym. The winner will punch its ticket into next week's final eight-team bracket, to be played at McArthur Court in Eugene.
These days, Hansen gets his shots whether the Grizzlies are shorthanded or not. The 6-foot guard is averaging 14.2 points despite filling a reserve role.
If the pressure of taking big shots in big games is something that bothers him, Hansen doesn't show it. During one crucial four-game stretch of the SSC season, as Ashland fought to stay in control of the league title chase, Hansen averaged 22.5 points. The run included a clutch overtime win at Klamath Union, the eventual second-place team, against which Hansen scored a team-high 19 points.
"Once I start the game I don't really worry about who's watching or what's going on," Hansen said. "I just really focus on winning the game."
That kind of composure has impressed Kellems, who said Hansen probably plays more minutes than anybody on the team outside of starting point guard Adam Pavlich.
"I've never seen (Hansen) get rattled," Kellems said.
It probably helps that Hansen has become accustomed to playing a starring role. He's been one of the Rogue Valley's best basketball players in his age group pretty much since he learned how to dribble, and he's also a standout baseball player who helped Ashland capture back-to-back Little League 11-12 All-Star district titles.
Still, Hansen admits he's a little surprised how quickly he's become a focal point of the Grizz offense, which is averaging 61 points per game.
"Well, coming into the season I didn't (know my role), but as the preseason went on I figured out that my role was to shoot and score, and that's what they wanted me to do," he said before Wednesday's practice. "Especially going into conference (play), I knew what my role was and I've been very comfortable. I feel like I'm just one of the guys.
"At the beginning of the year I was a little bit surprised that I was able to (score) that much, but really, now the expectation is that I'm (like) an upperclassmen and I'm trying to help the team get to Mac Court."
To do that, Hansen and the Grizzlies first must vanquish a formidable opponent that happens to be on a hot streak. Glencoe has won five games in a row and 11 of its last 14 while playing in a conference that includes No. 2 Wilsonville.
The Crimson Tide, which is making its first playoff appearance since 1998, employs a balanced attack that's built around a pair of post players that measure 6-6 and 6-5. It's had four different leading scorers in its last eight games, the most recent being Tanner Apeland, who poured in 26 against Parkrose on Feb. 24.
"They really work the post," Kellems said of Glencoe. "They don't really seem to shoot a lot of 3s. One or two a game, is all they score. They rely on their bigs and they just pound it inside over and over again. And they're satisfied to come down and run a halfcourt game."
To counter that, Kellems said, the Grizzlies, whose starting frontline measures 6-foot (Ian Kendall) and 6-2 (Jordan Resch), will try to push the tempo, attack the perimeter and play great help defense.
"We're going to deny on the perimeter as much as we can and really put pressure on whoever has the ball so they can't throw it in easily," he said. "And then, number two, we're going to front the bigs, because we're not big enough to stand behind, and then we'll try and bring help from the back side. So we'll sandwich them in there as much as we can."
Offensively, the Grizzlies also feature a balanced attack that's yielded three leading scorers in their last four games. Pavlich represents the head of that beast, having led the Grizzlies in scoring in four of their last six games, averaging 14.3 points in that span.
The Grizzlies probably will not enter the game at full strength. Pavlich and Resch both missed Wednesday's practice with colds, Nino Foley has an ailing hip and Hansen is still recovering from a sprained ankle. Kellems expects all to play against Glencoe.
As Hansen said, the Grizzlies have been waiting for this moment for a long time.
"It would mean everything," he said, when asked about the possibility of playing on Mac Court. "It's been our team's goal all year. That's been the big goal and we've given ourselves an opportunity to do it. This Saturday it all comes down to it, and we're all going to be ready."