Behr: NWC does not play at Page's level
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
The Pioneers didn't play great, but they didn't stink up the joint, either.
There. I said it and stand by it. If you want to roll your eyes, that's fine.
The final score -- a 102-64 loss to Greensboro Page -- indicates differently. But this is a case where the cliché, "It is what it is," doesn't apply to Watauga's overall performance.
Page is simply that good.
Watauga was competitive for about six minutes in the first quarter before Page hit a gear that nobody in the Northwestern Conference can match.
That includes NWC champion Freedom, which is 28-1 and just beat North Buncombe 84-66 in the third round of the 3-A state tournament.
Yes, I mean the same Freedom that is ranked No. 2 in 3-A North Carolina boys' basksetball by ncpreps.com.
Watauga did not play its best game of the season, but the Pioneers did not bumble and stumble all over themselves. The effort was there, they avoided foul trouble, made nine 3-point shots and 11-of-12 foul shots.
None of that really mattered to the Pirates.
Page, when playing that way, is simply on a different level than not just Watauga, but the entire NWC. The Pirates are 26-2 and the No. 1 seed in the western bracket for a reason.
They showcased that reason Friday. And if they play all their games like they played Friday night, they are at least 10, and possibly 20, points better than the rest of the NWC.
I saw one weakness in Page's game Friday night -- foul shooting. The Pirates made 8-of-15 from the line, which needs to be much better as they advance into the regional, and possibly state finals.
It wasn't a big deal Friday.
Watauga head coach Rob Sanders had the right idea going into the game. He used the same strategy the Pioneers used to upset Freedom 75-65 during the regular season.
He wanted the Pioneers to pack the middle of their 2-3 zone and turn Page into jump shooters. Jump shots are, in theory, harder to make than layups, so the plan made sense.
It also made sense because the film Watauga had on Page showed the Pirates struggle shooting from the outside.
Add the fact that Page started a 6-foot-7 center in Xavier Hill-Mais, 6-6 forward Jeremy Harris and 6-4 forward Jalen Seegars, and it's easy to see why Sanders took his chances with Page's outside shooting.
He didn't expect Page to make 13 3-point baskets and 39 overall shots. Nobody expected the Pirates to shoot 59 percent from the field.
Going into Friday, it was thought Watauga had to play its best game to beat Page. The Pirates also had to make mistakes that would allow Watauga to score easy baskets and keep the game close going into the fourth quarter.
The way Page was shooting, I'm not sure Freedom or Hickory, on their best days, could beat Page. Never say never, but the NWC standard setters would need some breaks to beat the Pirates.
The Pirates were on another level Friday night, especially in a first half that saw them claim a 56-24 halftime lead against a Watauga team that never could match Page's speed, even when the substitutes entered the game in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter.
Page showed its speed on two occasions, one when Cam Baker got a breakaway layup blocked, and another when Jay Harrill got an open 3-point shot blocked.
Those shots go in against Patton. Not so much against Page.
The Pirates proved they are a state title contender.