Vikings show improvement |

Vikings show improvement

After beating three California teams by a combined margin of 208-131 to win the Viking Rotary Classic, South Tahoe plans to unveil its A game.

That an offense that rebounded to outscore opponents by nearly 26 points a game in the weekend’s tournament could get better might be scary enough for prospective opponents. But that the defense could get better after shutting down Santa Theresa, Soquel and Victor Valley in rapid succession should be terrifying.

“I think we’ve been solid defensively,” said South Tahoe head coach Tom Orlich after his Vikings held Victor Valley (Victorville, Calif.) to just one second-quarter and three fourth-quarter field goals in a 63-49 championship win. “Board-wise, we did a good job. But again, offensively, we’re just not as sharp as we’d like to be.”

Solid, but the defense could get even better. Orlich described only three of the four quarters against Victor Valley as good, and the game Jackrabbits crawled back into the contest in the third. But the point is, it still is improving game-to-game.

“Our defense has always been pretty solid this year,” Orlich said. “So that, and our transition game defense got better throughout the course of the game. (Victor Valley) had some good early baskets in the first quarter off of the fast break, but we started shutting that down. (Senior forward Edmound Elzy), I think, had two of them.”

Against Santa Theresa and Soquel, South Tahoe forced turnovers. Against Victor Valley, the team limited good shots, especially in transition, where center Bob Larmore seemed to become more effective filling the lane against the break every trip down the floor.

“We tell our kids if we play with the same kind of intensity that South Tahoe has, we can be the kind of team that can go 14-0 in league,” said Victor Valley head coach Matt Denny, whose Jackrabbits ran out of steam after 32 minutes against the Vikings press. “You almost can say they’ve got a football player’s mentality. They’re going to bump you, they’re going to grind you, they’re going to let you know they’re there. They do a good job with it. It’s a great way to play.”

South Tahoe senior forward Travis McCollum, who addressed defensive rebounding as a personal mission against Victor Valley, agreed.

“We still haven’t done what we really want to on offense or defense,” McCollum said. “But we’re making steps toward that, and as long as we keep going forward, not backward, we’ll be doing all right.”

“We’re having a lot more patience on offense, and defensively, I don’t think we’re doing much different, but we are rebounding better,” McCollum said. “And that’s made a world of difference on the rebounding on defense. Because if you play a few minutes of defense and then give up a rebound, it’s like you did it for nothing.”

Before the season started with a rare home loss, 56-45 to McQueen, Orlich identified defensive intensity, offensive execution and rebounding as the areas South Tahoe needed to work on. All three have improved – when McCollum wasn’t on the boards against Victor Valley, sixth man Andy Butcher was, tallying five rebounds in the fourth quarter alone. But neither Orlich nor the players seem to think the offense has come as far as it can.

“We had spurts where I thought we played good, and there were times when I thought we could have done better,” Orlich said after Saturday night’s win. “We had some breakdowns in the half-court offense; things just didn’t go as well as we hoped. We still don’t have everybody playing as well as we’d like. We’re trying to play more as a team. That’s a real goal of ours.”

The McQueen game has passed. But for as much as the Vikings don’t want to see a repeat of that performance, they don’t want to forget it, either. In fact, Vikings senior guard John Giannoni III tabbed the constant reminders of the McQueen game as one of the reasons South Tahoe is playing better.

“We didn’t execute very well against McQueen, and we had a good practice the day after McQueen, and we’ve been more unselfish,” he said.

Indeed, South Tahoe’s offense has been more precise. In contrast to the season-opener, South Tahoe has been able to get the ball inside to McCollum, Chris Ortiz and Larmore (who combined for 20 points against Victor Valley), go to swingmen Butcher and Tim Sprinkles, or get the ball outside to Giannoni or Matt Williams.

Part of the solution may be the Vikings have become more comfortable with their new, more-precise motion offense. But South Tahoe still isn’t where it wants to be.

“We want to be able to score every time down the court,” Giannoni said.

“It’ll take time because of the new offense and things like that,” he said. “But we’ll get there.”

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