FAIR GROVE — Relating to a 'roughy' making his living 8 seconds at a time on the rodeo circuit, Kavan Walker made eight 3-pointers Wednesday to keep Sparta's season alive.
Sporting his customary Hooey Roughy western sportswear hat before and after Sparta's Class 3 District 11 semifinal game with Greenwood, Walker scored a career-high 27 points in the Trojans' 68-57 victory.
Walker was 8-of-11 from 3-point land in a shooting display that everyone who packed Fair Grove’s gym won’t soon forget.
If Walker didn't already rate his Roughy hat as his best Christmas present, he surely does now.
“It's a good luck charm," he said.
"Every single day and everywhere you see him, he has that on," teammate Jacob Lafferty said. "He's got to keep wearing it now.”
That’s not asking a lot from Walker. Even while in school, he usually dons his hat from class to class.
“They changed that rule when I was a freshman, that you can wear a hat during school,” Walker said. “Ever since, I've worn one. Coach (Deric) Link teased me about my hat the other day. He said, 'You wear that hat all the time?' I told him that I go through spurts, that I'll wear the same hat for three or four months and then I'll get a new one and wear it for three or four months.”
On the hardwood, Walker actually isn’t a man of many hats. The senior sharpshooter will occasionally help point guard Walker Loveland with Sparta’s ball-handling duties, but bottom line is his job is to shoot, specifically 3-pointers.
On the season, Walker hasn’t attempted 20 field goals inside the 3-point line. But he averages 6.5 3-point shots a game and is finding success at a 44-percent clip.
He’s never enjoyed a better night shooting 3s than Wednesday and perhaps no other Sparta player ever has. Link and his players weren’t sure if Walker’s eight 3s were enough to tie or set a single-game school record.
“We definitely need to find that out,” Walker said.
All this after Walker had an inauspicious start. He missed two of his three 3-point attempts in the first quarter. But over the second and third quarter, he swished five straight 3s. He finished things off by making two of his three 3-point tries in the fourth quarter.
Don’t guilt Greenwood for not recognizing Walker’s hot hand. Blue Jays defenders repeatedly had a hand in his face as he fired away.
Walker welcomed the company.
“I hate being denied the ball, but like being pressured a little bit when I'm shooting,” he said. “I feel as a shooter a lot of times when you're wide open, it throws you off guard. You have the mentality that you want to say, 'You've got to step out on me.' With a guy having his hand in your face, it feels a little more normal.”
Walker had played at Fair Grove only once before Wednesday. Two years ago, Sparta was one and done at Districts by losing to the host Eagles.
“I don't remember from my sophomore year how I shot here, but after tonight I definitely am partial to this gym,” Walker said.
Link played as a prep for Fair Grove and he reports his alma mater’s gym has the reputation of having, “shooter’s rims. They’re really soft."
But Walker didn’t need any shooter’s bounces. His high-arcing releases produced swish after swish.
“He shoots well in almost any gym,” Link said. “I've told him he's the best shooter I probably will ever get the chance to coach. I hope I get the chance to coach better ones because that will mean I'll be truly blessed and really lucky as a coach. But I don't think I'll ever find one as good as him.”
“Every time he let it go tonight I thought, ‘Do I need to go get the board? Nah, I don’t think I do,’” Lafferty said. “I knew it was going in.”
On the strength of shooting from Walker and Steven Brown, Sparta (22-5) broke from a 29-all halftime tie to lead 43-34 midway through the third quarter. Brown finished 4-of-7 shooting 3s.
The Trojans also got Lafferty going in the second half. He didn’t attempt a single shot in the second quarter and had just four points at halftime.
A 21-points-per-game scorer, Lafferty scored a dozen points in the second half.
Greenwood (20-8) contained Lafferty with double-teams as well as the Blue Jays could have hoped for. But the junior center still collected 16 points and 14 rebounds.
“We didn't play in the first half as well as we wanted to,” Link said. “As coaches, we didn't do a good enough of a job in the first half of finding ways to get (Lafferty) involved. That's completely on us. We made some adjustments and did a better job of finding him.”
“I didn’t have any freebies tonight,” Lafferty said. “It was fun. I loved battling down low left and right.”
The Trojans kept Greenwood at bay by keeping constant pressure on the duo of Nic Burri and Collin Clark. Burri had 21 points and Clark 15, but combined they were 13-of-33 from the field.
“They're so good. They make really hard shots look easy,” Link said. “You’ve got to make sure you do the best you can to make it as tough on them as possible without putting them on the free-throw line.”
By all accounts, the Trojans responded to post-season pressure admirably.
“Ride the kiddie-coaster, like coach says,” Lafferty said. “Don’t get too high or too low.”
“We did a good job of not making it as big as it can be,” Link said. “The thought of it being all done can be daunting. At the end of the day, the ball is going to be up and it's one team versus another and we're just playing basketball.”
“Coach told us several times, 'Don't make it bigger than it is, it's us against Greenwood, just go out and play,’” Walker said. “We were locked in and ready to go.”
The other semifinal saw Strafford (15-10) pull out a 68-62 overtime win against Fair Grove (19-9).
The Strafford-Sparta final Friday is a rematch of last year’s District title tilt.
Sparta 68, Greenwood 57
GREENWOOD (57) — Clark 5 5-5 15, Rose 3 2-2 8, Winslow 2 0-0 5, Litherland 4 0-0 8, Burri 8 3-4 21.
SPARTA (68) — W. Loveland 2 0-1 4, Walker 8 3-4 27, Lafferty 6 4-4 16, D. Loveland 3 3-5 9, Brown 4 0-0 12,
Greenwood 16 13 17 11 - 57
Sparta 15 14 22 17 - 68
3-point goals - Walker 8, Brown 4, Burri 2, Winslow.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here