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Jan. 12, 2006

Blazers' b-ball skid continues with home loss

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
JAN. 11, NELSON H. KOBREN MEMORIAL GYMNASIUM-

Following Monday's loss to Magruder, Blair head coach Orlando Larracuente was almost pleased with the team's effort in defeat. Tonight against the Churchill Bulldogs, the result was the same, but the coach's feelings after the game could not have been more different.

Against an undersized Churchill team that had just two wins coming into tonight, Blair struggled in the first half, then stalled towards the finish line. The end product was a 62-53 loss that left the coach angry and the players wondering what happened.

Blair (2-7) allowed nine three pointers, and Churchill's Dan Sack's ten assists picked apart a weak Blazer defense. The scoring for the Bulldogs was carried by Eric Stromberg's 23 points, and Grant Phillips' 13. They were often found wide open behind the three-point line, which infuriated Larracuente.

"We had too many mental lapses on defense," he said. "We didn't make the effort; too many times our defenders stayed in the paint and let [the Churchill shooter] get wide open from three. And they buried it over and over."

Down just two points, the Blazers went on a cold streak in the second quarter and fell behind by eight at halftime. After going down twelve headed into the fourth quarter, the Blazers tried to rally, but could never get closer than three possessions away.

Trailing by nine with 90 seconds left, Churchill left the door open a crack by missing three consecutive one-and-one attempts, but Blair converted on the other end just once. John Orr's jumper with 55 seconds left to cut the deficit to seven was the closest the Blazers got to the Bulldogs late in the fourth.

Jacob Wade, who scored nine points for a Blair team that had 10 players register at least one field goal, said that Larracuente was disappointed in the locker room after the game. "He basically felt like we weren't behind him. We didn't execute on defense, and Churchill killed us that way. [Stromberg and Phillips] were shooters, and we let `em have wide open shots."

Wade then, without naming names, accused his teammates of not putting forth effort. "Some people on this team have given up on the season. Straight up. Half of us aren't playing to our capabilities right now. We need focus and get together as a team."

Churchill's bad record, said Wade, caused some of the team to take them for granted. "I think some of us players looked at their record before tonight and said `we got em,' instead of looking at the makeup of their team. We didn't look at who their shooters were, and how we could stop `em."

He said that the Bulldogs were well coached, and seemed very organized. "You saw their passes," he noted. "They were sharp; Churchill played together like any other good team. They were really in synch and able to find the open man easily."

Assistant coach Emanuel Charles said that it wasn't the coaching staff's fault for the lackluster energy. "It's the kids who play the game. We're only as good as the kids on the floor. If they're not mentally focused, there's nothing we can do when we're out there."

Larracuente said that the team lacks defensive communication. "We don't talk to each other on the defensive end, and we can't rebound. On D, we're making the same mistakes as last season. It's frustrating to watch."

For the last few season, Blair has been stacked with athletic, fast players. But Larracuente says that the Blazers aren't using their speed to any notable advantage. "For us, running should be our strength. But it's not, because kids aren't thinking out there. When we miss a screen or a steal, we take the longest path to recover. That leaves guys like the Churchill shooters wide open."

In his one-plus seasons here, Larracuente has a winning percentage under .200. But he says that it's hard to turn around a culture of losing that has plagued Blair over the last decade.

"Did I walk into a program that had winning records the last six years?" He asked rhetorically. "No. It's really hard to change the structure of the team overnight, but we don't have experienced ballplayers, or anyone on the team who can motivate the others."

If there's nobody on the Blair roster that can motivate with their words, then John Orr seems to be trying hard with his play. Orr, coming off the bench, led the Blazers in scoring with 12, including three second-half three-pointers to try and spark a late rally. Ross Williams had 11 points, and Larry Johnson seven.

Larracuente says, despite the frustrating loss and poor record, there is still room for optimism. "We've got more than half a season left. Who's to say we can't turn it around? I know we can play well; we just need to play solid basketball every single night, not every third game."



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