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Libby Loggers axe Whitefish Bulldogs in playoff action

by JIM DASIOS
| February 22, 2022 7:00 AM

With the Loggers having beaten the Whitefish Bulldogs twice previously, both by comfortable margins, Libby fans had every reason to expect another victory at Friday’s play-in playoff matchup at Ralph Tate Gymnasium.

But it wouldn’t come easily. The No. 6 seed Bulldogs gave the Loggers a good scare on Feb. 18, even if their bark proved more ferocious than their bite in Libby’s 43-34 win.

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Caden Williams goes up for a shot during the Loggers 43-34 win over Whitefish on Feb. 18. (Derrick Perkins/The Western News)

It might not be obvious from their conference and regular season records, but Whitefish remained a dangerous team heading into the postseason. It was a squad that could beat better teams if they could force opponents to play their game.

The Whitefish game is a slow tempo offense — think seven to 10 passes before shooting — that looks for high percentage shots. It’s an offense with few turnovers, an offense that limits their opponents’ possession time while eating up the clock.

Add in an aggressive man defense, one that stops fast breaks before they start, and you’ve got a low-scoring Whitefish victory.

There is one major flaw with the strategy: It looses its effectiveness when playing with a deficit. Coming back from behind is a major challenge.

The Loggers, on the other hand, are an athletic, fast-moving bunch. They have height and ball handlers, and they have scorers willing to take it to the hoop for quick points. Don’t think about putting a full court press on them. The Loggers, from the senior starters on down, can handle the ball and pass to the open man.

And when opponents reach the point of fouling the Loggers to get the ball back, it’s already game over.

Both teams started Friday’s game with aggressive man defenses coupled with a few added wrinkles. Libby’s Ivan Cano opened scoring after blowing by a defender for a lay-in to give the Loggers an early 2-0 lead.

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T.J. Andersen works around the Bulldogs' defense on Feb. 18. (Derrick Perkins/The Western News)

With a lay-in of his own and two free throws, T.J. Andersen kept the Loggers ahead 6-4 with four minutes to go in the quarter. Tyler Andersen’s short jumper at the 1:30 mark gave Libby a 14-11 advantage. Two Whitefish free throws at the end of the period left Libby with the slimmest of margins, though.

The second quarter started off with a Caden Williams basket that was taken away owing to a travel violation. T.J. Andersen used fancy footwork to lose 6-foot-6 Whitefish center Talon Holmquist and drove to the bucket. He followed that up by forcing Holmquist into taking a bad shot at the other end of the court.

Whitefish focused on controlling the clock. Looking for those high percentage shots, the Bulldogs stuck in a short jumper at about the five-minute mark to come back to within a point of Libby’s lead.

Both teams struggled to hit any shot over 12 feet throughout the game.

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Libby and Whitefish players scramble for the ball in a Feb. 18 playoff play-in game at Ralph Tate Gymnasium. (Derrick Perkins/The Western News)

“Our perimeter shots weren’t falling,” said Libby coach Josh Bean. “T.J. missed a few from the baseline that he normally makes. We hit one three pointer the whole game.”

Williams put back a shot to make it 18-15, Libby. And with 52 seconds left in the quarter, Whitefish’s Holmquist nailed a shot from the low post. The buzzer sounded with Libby leading 20-19.

The low scoring continued into the third quarter. Early on, Ryder Davis’ floating teardrop found the bucket to expand Libby’s lead.

But the Loggers would score just two more points in the quarter.

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T.J. Andersen goes up for a rebound at a Feb. 18 matchup with the Whitefish Bulldogs. (Derrick Perkins/The Western News)

Holmquist, by contrast, went on a tear for Whitefish. Using a variety of pump fakes and fancy footwork, he netted eight points for the Bulldogs.

“For the majority of the game, I thought T.J. played great defense against Holmquist,” Bean said. “We allowed him to establish position in the third. When he gets the ball low on the block, he’s hard to stop.”

Bean also noticed a change in the dynamics of the matchup.

“The game began to get a little more physical,” he said. “They were banging underneath. I thought the refs did a good job of letting both sides play.”

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The senior section of the stands at Ralph Tate Gymnasium lit up as the Loggers took control of the Feb. 18 game in the fourth quarter. (Derrick Perkins/The Western News)

Thanks in no small part to Holmquist, the quarter ended with Whitefish in the lead, 27-24. It was basketball, Bulldog style.

In response, the Loggers pressed the gas pedal. Tyler Andersen hit a three pointer off of an inbound play with 7:25 left to tie the score at 27. Whitefish fought back and retook the lead for the last time.

A Williams baseline jumper at the 4:40 mark gave Libby the lead for good. Down 37-32, the Bulldogs began scrambling after the ball, sending the Loggers to the free throw line. Libby went six for six from the charity stripe in the last minute of play, cementing the win.

Williams led the Loggers in scoring, putting up 16 points. Tyler Andersen came away with 11 while T.J. Andersen netted eight.

Libby 14 6 4 19 – 43

Whitefish 13 6 8 7 – 34