If this season has proven anything to the Palo Alto High School boys’ basketball team (26-3, 12-0), it’s that the team succeeds as long it sticks to its gameplan. On Tuesday night, the Vikings faced the Menlo School Knights (25-4, 14-0) in the regional semifinal of the Division I CIF State Boys Basketball Championships and stuck to their fundamentals, leading to a 54-47 victory.
Aided by a thunderous student section from the get-go, the Vikings jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter. Paly, which never trailed in the game, used its lead to control tempo and facilitate the flow of the game.
Menlo battled hard, using its superior size and length to crash the offensive glass and create second-chance scoring opportunities and stay within 10 points of Paly. Senior Thomas Brown led Menlo 16 points, including a couple of clutch three-pointers to keep the Knights in the game.
On the other side of the court, the Vikings were ice cold from three-point range, a single triple in the second quarter by senior forward Max Dorward, Paly’s leading scorer with 22 points, was Paly’s only points from beyond the arc.
According to senior forward William Schlemmer, poor outside shooting has allowed the Vikings to elevate other areas of their game.
“The past few games we haven’t hit as many threes as we usually do so we have focused on running the offense and getting looks in transition,” Schlemmer said.
Palo Alto did a fantastic job of shutting Menlo’s Lehigh University-bound Joe Foley, limiting him to just four points in the contest. Foley, who fouled out at the two-minute mark in the fourth quarter, was smothered by Paly’s defense, with driving lanes closing up instantly and shooting space never opening up.
“Our defensive mindset was to not let Foley get in the paint and to keep Riley [Woodson] off the glass, which I thought we did a pretty good job of,” Schlemmer said. “We wanted to make someone else beat us besides those two. Since the last matchup, we have improved a lot on both ends of the floor regarding execution and intensity.”
Taking a seven-point into halftime, 27-20, Paly started the second half energized. Its lead quickly ballooned to 15 points and Paly never looked back. Brown hit a three-pointer late in the fourth quarter to cut the Viking lead to seven, 47-40. The Vikings hit their free throws and hung on for a comfortable victory, 54-47.
Up next, Paly plays at 4 p.m. Saturday, at the Leavey Center at Santa Clara University. Standing between the Vikings and a trip to the state championship game is the No. 2 Las Lomas High School Knights (30-3). Ranked 5th in California by MaxPreps, Las Lomas has been a dominant force in the East Bay all season.
According to senior guard Will Schmutz, in order to be successful against Las Lomas, Paly will have to slow down the game, much like it did against No. 1 Heritage.
“Las Lomas is a very talented team and we have to be able to stop their dribble penetration,” Schmutz said. “If we control the pace and don’t let them get into transition then we believe we can take them out of there game and force them to make rash decisions that we will capitalize on.”