Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

For Wootton boys, a win is a win

Wooton 54, Whitman 49

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Sometimes, second-year Wootton boys basketball coach Chris Bohlen thinks the perfect game would be a 40-point win, with himself as a calm spectator. But then he finds himself pacing the sidelines of a five-point battle, like Friday’s 54-49 home win over Whitman, and realizes those wins are just as gratifying, if not moreso.

Wootton (7-2) conceded an early 10-point lead before reassuming control late in Friday’s game to snap Whitman’s four-game win streak and extend its own run to four, which includes its Patriots Roundball Classic holiday tournament title during the break.

‘‘The guys definitely thrive off making me go gray before my time,” Bohlen said. ‘‘We do seem to like late-game pressure. It tends to focus our guys.”

Wootton doesn’t have a lot of star power, or much name recognition. It doesn’t have one standout player it always relies on. Rather, the Patriots are a compilation of a number of talented players capable of stepping into more prominent roles when necessary.

They had a different leading scorer in each of their first four games, and that versatile attack is what enabled Wootton to stave off the Vikings. Led by senior guard Chris Cohen (15 points), junior forward Stephane Ngoumou (8 points) and senior guard Chris Lawder (8 points), six Patriots tallied at least five points.

Wootton’s strong start to 2007-08 is symptomatic of the natural progression when a coach has been around for more than a year. Last season — when they went 13-11 — the Patriots spent the majority of the season adjusting to Bohlen’s system and focusing on the basics.

This year, with several returnees on board, including Cohen, Lawder and senior forwards Titus Cheng (7 points) and Jamil Abdur-Raoof, Wootton has been able to employ some more intricate strategies. An added touch of depth has made the Patriots less predictable, and they’ve prospered.

‘‘I normally like to get up and pressure on defense,” Bohlen said. ‘‘Against Whitman, we tried to slow the tempo down more rather than pressure. That’s the first time we’ve ever done that.”

The Vikings (4-5) have rebounded well from a 1-4 start. They don’t have the size and experience they’re used to. But, led by senior guards Dillon Borgida (13 points) and Alex Kamargo (12 points) and junior Michael Fowler (11 points), Whitman has several capable scorers to lean on. The problem has been converting on opportunities in the clutch. An inability to hit shots late hurt Whitman again Friday.

‘‘[Wootton] scored 12 baskets,” Whitman coach Chris Lun said. ‘‘You give me that number going in and I’m happy. But they took 36 free throws. Wootton is the best offensive team as far as what they run, I think. And we held them pretty well. We were right there. Hopefully our defense can continue to get better and at the end, some of our shots start falling.”

It’s nice to get an easy win. But pulling out a grueling victory can be even more validating. Wootton’s win Friday was just that: gratifying.

‘‘It’s definitely good to have a test,” Bohlen said. ‘‘Everything is really a test for playoffs. From a coaching perspective, it’s nice to get a good win over a quality opponent like Whitman.”