Some observations from the Class 6A boys state basketball tournament:
u SOUTH MEDFORD overcame considerable adversity to win its first state title.
The cut hand suffered by junior point guard Michael Harthun on the eve of the tournament threw a huge monkey wrench into the Panthers' title hopes.
Harthun overcame the injury, which required six stitches on the top of his shooting hand, by scoring 60 points in South Medford's three wins, including a team-high 24 in the Panthers' 58-54 victory over Lake Oswego in Saturday's title game.
South Medford also had to overcome severe foul trouble in the finale. Both Kyle Singler and his brother E.J. — the team's two starting posts — incurred three fouls in the first half attempting to contain Lake Oswego standout Kevin Love.
When both players picked up their fourth fouls in the third quarter and had to leave the game with South Medford clinging to a slim lead, it was white-knuckle time in Pantherville.
Love, looking like a shark that had just entered bloody waters, began scoring on nearly every possession on his way to a game-high 37 points.
But Harthun, nicknamed "The Assassin" by the South Medford assistant coaches, repeatedly answered at the other end.
"Michael has a history of stepping up in pressure games — he truly enjoys being in that situation," South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy said. "And we truly enjoy watching him."
In the end, the Panthers simply refused to lose. Kyle Singler returned to make 5 of 6 free throws in the final 2:50 and senior wing Van Dellenback-Ouellette swished two more with 12.5 seconds left, giving the Medford team a 58-54 cushion and clinching the biggest win in school history.
"Our kids never doubted they were going to win," Murphy said. "They've been so mentally tough all season."
That fortitude came partly as the result of the toughest schedule in school history. The Panthers played five nationally-ranked teams and defeated four of them, including Lake Oswego twice. The only loss was a wild, 99-90 setback to Virginia-based Oak Hill Academy, which went 40-1 and has been ranked No. 1 most of the season in the USA Today Super 25 rankings. South Medford is ranked 14th.
"I'm going to get all the guys on the team to sign it and then we're going to give it to the South Medford boosters and let them sell it at the auction," Grimes said.
u LOVE IS QUICKER than people think. The 6-foot-10, 255-pound senior center won't be running the 100-meter dash for the Lake Oswego track team this spring, but he looked considerably faster than a year ago.
In the championship semifinal game against Sheldon, Love stole the ball in the backcourt and stampeded to the other end before any of the Irish players could catch him. He was fouled about 4 feet from the basket but made a finger-roll layup and then hit the free throw. The three-point play accounted for the only points of the fourth period, allowing Lake Oswego to post a 28-25 win in the slow-down game.
In the championship contest against South Medford, Lake Oswego opened in a man-to-man defense, with Love guarding Kyle Singler. An obvious strategy for South Medford was to clear out for Singler on the perimeter and allow him to take Love off the dribble. But the big Laker pivot moved his feet and managed to stay in front of South Medford's Duke-bound senior.
Last season, I thought Love might be a little overrated. But no more. He has tremendous strength and power that allows him to dominate on the low block. He has a great shooting touch that extends to the 3-point line. He's a beast on the backboards and on defense. And now, with some quickness to augment his other attributes, he'll excel when he puts on a UCLA uniform next season.
u FOR THE SECOND straight year, the South Medford players and coaches were serenaded at the Eugene Hilton, where hundreds of Panther fans gathered after the game. The mood was a lot more festive than a year ago, when South Medford lost to Lake Oswego in the championship game.
A group of parents rented out a ballroom for the players and students, then held their own party in the main lobby of the hotel until the wee hours of Sunday morning.
Since Medford hadn't won a hoop title since 1960, the party-goers felt compelled to play catch-up. About a dozen were still going strong at 5 a.m.
The setup allowed players like North Eugene's Brian Conklin to showcase their skills on the big stage. Conklin, a physical 6-9 junior who led the state in scoring at the 5A level, outplayed bigger names such as Canby's Clint Chapman, a 6-10 senior who's headed to Texas, and Westview's Andy Poling, a 6-11 junior who's being recruited by several Pac-10 schools.
I thought Conklin, who fueled North Eugene to a 27-0 record and their first state title in 30 years, was the fourth-best player in either tournament, behind only Singler, Harthun and Love.