When Jeff Buchanan took over the Andale boys basketball program in 2005, he envisioned a day when his team’s love for defense would exceed its love for offense.
It’s a bold dream, as players grow up working on their shots and seeing players who score points receive the recognition.
Defense is not everybody, but it is for Andale.
This season has been a utopia of sorts for Buchanan, who watched Andale grind down another good offensive team in Trinity Academy in a 52-38 victory in a sub-state championship game on Saturday night.
“Every team loves offense, but we’re from Andale and we’re hard workers and we love a challenge,” Andale junior Hunter Knoblauch said. “And defense is a challenge.”
It was as if his star player was reading from a script prepared by Buchanan.
But the only script Andale followed on Saturday was the masterful approach on defense against a potent Trinity squad that was in love with bombing three-pointers.
Andale switched on virtually every screen, rendering them useless for Trinity, and harassed ball handlers along the perimeter to disrupt the flow of the Knights’ offense.
The results were stunning. After 19 minutes of play, Trinity’s offense, which averaged better than 60 points this season, had produced only 12 points and had missed 22 of 26 shots.
“You can tell they spend a lot of time in the weight room,” Trinity coach Steve Miller said. “They’re so athletic and quick and strong. They had us outsized at every position. We just couldn’t make enough shots.”
When the outside shots did begin to fall for Trinity, Andale leaned on its 18-point cushion to soften the blow. The Knights briefly brought it back to 38-30 with 6:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Andale went back to its advantage inside.
The Knights were able to become Central Plains League champions without a player over 6-foot-1 because their defense worked so well together to account for its lack of height. But that was no match for Andale’s posts.
Jeff Ast (6-foot-5) and Lane Macari (6-4) finished with a combined 30 points and 19 rebounds.
“I was working at just getting the seal,” Ast said. “You know you’re going to get the ball with Hunter. You can just read his eyes.”
Knoblauch was tremendous in distributing to Andale’s scorers, as he finished with seven assists to go along with eight points and five rebounds.
But earning a return trip to the state tournament, this time as the No. 1 seed at the Class 4A-Division II tournament at Park City’s Hartman Arena, is a result of the defense.
Trinity (16-6), which was led by 13 points from Tyler Burns, finished the game shooting 26.8 percent.
“It’s not because of anything special we’re doing right now,” Buchanan said. “This has been a year-by-year approach. It takes time to do it. It’s the previous year’s grads that have instilled a great foundation in defense that we’ve continued to build on.”
TRINITY: Burns 13, Carro 8, Shanks 6, Jones 6, Miller 3, Loon 2.
ANDALE: Ast 19, Macari 11, Knoblauch 8, Hermreck 8, Roe 4, Walstad 2.