By Lee Horton
Peninsula Daily News
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Defend the NWAACC's leading scorer Kyle Impero.
“Last time we played him, he really went off, he had 40 points on us,” Hechanova said.
“This game, my main focus was to play defense on him. That was the main goal: make sure he didn't get his average.
“I was really concentrating on that. I knew my teammates would back me up on the rest of the offense and defense, I was just focusing on Impero.”
The Pirates held Impero to 24 points in a 76-59 upset win Saturday night.
The win keeps Peninsula in the thick of the postseason race and sets up another important game at Edmonds on Wednesday.
Impero's 24 points, six of which came on a pair of garbage-time 3-pointers in the last 90 seconds of the game, are six below his average coming into the game of 30.3.
Only one other NWAACC team has held Impero to less that 24 points this season: Top-ranked Clark (whose only loss on the season came against Peninsula in November) allowed him to score only 22.
“He takes a lot of shots, but he makes a lot of shots,” Peninsula coach Mitch Freeman said of Impero.
“So, yeah, he drew our attention, and so we had to make sure to try to limit his ability to shoot the basketball, and I thought we did that.”
Impero attempted only 13 field goals and made seven — both tied for his season low.
The Pirates played a physical brand of defense on Impero, so a chunk of his points came at the free-throw line where he made 10 of 11.
Hechanova spent a majority of his 26 minutes and 35 seconds on the court locked up man-to-man with Impero, but slowing him down wasn't solely Hechanova's responsibility.
In fact, he spent most of the second half on the bench after picking up his fourth foul with 15:16 left in the game.
“That was the plan, to mix it up on [Whatcom], change to a variety of different defenses because we couldn't let them just get one beat on what we're trying to do defensively, so we tried to mix it up a little bit,” Freeman said.
“It came down to our guys really committing to the game plan and playing hard and [for] 40 minutes.
“We ran our zone D and then ran a special D and ran our man-to-man. So there was a variety; it was a team effort in guarding Impero.”
Impero brought out the best in Peninsula's leading scorer, Xavier Bazile, who finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and three steals.
The sophomore wing is seventh in the NWAACC at 22.4 points per game.
“You want to be the best player on the court, and when you go against somebody like that you just want to show them up,” Bazile said.
“But Darren and Juwan [Flowers] did a good job of Box-and-1-ing him and face guarding him the whole game, and we held him below his average.”
Bazile was at his best after a three-minute stretch on the bench.
He re-entered the game at the 13:31 mark with Peninsula ahead 40-39.
As a playmaker for himself and his teammates, Bazile scored 12 points with seven rebounds, three assists and one steal as the Pirates finished the game on a 36-20 run.
“He's a good player. He's offensively gifted, he can really get to the basket, he's a big guard, and he can do a variety of different things,” Freeman said of Bazile. “He's nice to have.
“I think he's really more than capable of doing that. He's a kid that definitely has a bright future ahead of him in terms of collegiate basketball.”
Bazile made 11 of 15 field-goal attempts, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range, in his best shooting game of the season.
Tyler McKinney contributed 18 points, making 4 of 7 from behind the arc, and backup point guard Geno Horsley came off the bench to score 12 points and grab seven rebounds in 17 minutes.
With a bye earlier in the week and coming off a 76-66 loss to Bellevue, Peninsula had a week to prepare for the Orcas (6-2, 13-5).
“It was pretty hard. We were getting yelled at, chewed out, running and stuff,” Bazile said of the extra practice time.
“We were pretty dialed in. We just couldn't lose, man.
“This group of guys are good, we just bought into what coach was trying to do, so I believe that's why we won.”
Freeman said the team-wide commitment made Saturday's game the finest moment of his first season coaching the Pirates.
“At the start of the year we had some pretty good games,” Freeman said, “but I figure, from start to finish, game plan, execution, our guys taking the plan and executing it, I thought it was our best game.
“Our coaching staff, we work tirelessly in trying to prepare the guys, and they only see a glimpse of what we actually look at in terms of the opponent, so I really credit Coach [Fred] Harrison and Coach [Jon] Ing, as well.”
Peninsula (4-4, 10-7) is one game behind Edmonds (5-3, 13-8) for the NWAACC North Division's fourth and final playoff berth.
The Tritons, who beat the Pirates 75-66 in Port Angeles last month, pose a different challenge than did Whatcom.
“Big game. They've got a 7-footer and a 6-foot-5, 6-6 kid that are really tough,” Freeman said.
“So we've got to bring some toughness, and if we can do what we did tonight, we have a chance to do some good things.”
Peninsula 76, Whatcom 59
Whatcom 26 33— 59
Peninsula 33 43— 76
Impero 24, Wells 8, Duncan 4, Pierce 5, Fongue 3, Whitfield 12, Hill 3.
Bazile 29, Shamlin 1, Horsley 12, McKinney 18, Flowers 5, Rawls 6, Hechanova 2, Erwin 3.
Sports Editor Lee Horton can be reached at 360-417-3525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.