Boys basketball: Union's defense leads to playoff win

Defensive intensity key for Titans

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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The Union boys basketball team put into its game Tuesday night what the Titans have been practicing, preaching all season.

Defense will lead the way.

Take care of the ball to get more opportunities.

Crash the boards and use fundamentals to overome their lack of height.

They did it all in their opener of the Class 4A bi-district tournament. Jordan Chatman scored 16 points, Tyler Copp added 15, and the Titans shook off a rusty first half with a 68-47 home victory over Gig Harbor to advance to the quarterfinals.

Union (16-5) will play Curtis of University Place at 6 p.m. at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.

While Chatman, Copp, and Tanner Nelson (12 points) usually lead the team in scoring, Tuesday’s game also showcased the talents of other Union players.

Trent Cowan had three offensive rebounds in the third quarter alone, giving his team six second-chance points in a little more than a minute.

Seaver Whalen had a huge offensive rebound, putback and foul for a three-point play early in the fourth quarter.

And Brian Cairns connected on three 3-pointers to score 11 points -- one to slow down Gig Harbor and ignite a mini-run to ice the game.

“My mentality is defense, physicality, and rebounding,” Cowan said. “We know if we do those three things, our shots will fall and we would win the game.”

“I just come off the bench to make it easier for the other guys,” Whalen added. “My objective is to play hard defense, rebound, assist, make it easyer for the bigger scoring guys.”

Every once in a while, Whalen is rewarded for that work with a big score of his own.

Gig Harbor scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to cut the Union advantage in half. Cairns then drained a 3-pointer that stopped the tide for the Tides.

On Union’s next possession, the 6-foot-3 Whalen got an offensive rebound in the key, then scored with contact. His free throw made it 49-38 with 5:22 to play. Gig Harbor never got the deficit into single digits again.

“We practice hard so the games are easy,” Whalen said. “We just gotta be more physical than other teams because we are so small.”

The third quarter had a similar opening minutes, with the Tides trying to erase a seven-point halftime deficit.

But Cowan kept a possession alive for the Titans, who eventually got the ball to Copp for a 3-pointer. A little more than a minute later, same thing: Cowan rebound, ball finds its way to Copp, three points for Union.

“They’re our go-to players,” Cowan said of Copp, Nelson and Chatman. “If I can get them another look, that’s my role. I get the boards. I do the dirty work. I accept that role with pleasure.”

Cowan can shoot, too. In fact, he is 100 percent from beyond the arc this season. Cowan beat the third-quarter horn with a running 3-pointer -- his only 3-point attempt of the campaign -- to make it 43-33.

“I saw it spin around the rim, and when it went in, I had to give it a foot stomp,” Cowan said.

Both teams struggled from the floor in the first half. The Titans were 10 of 32 for the floor but still led 27-20, thanks to their own defense and ball control. Gig Harbor was 8 of 24 at the half and finished 18 of 47.

Union only had six turnovers for the game and also ended up shooting 50 percent from the floor in the second half.

“Kind of ugly, but playoff basketball, you go try to win any way,” Union coach Maco Hamilton said. “Our defense was outstanding, consistent throughout the whole game. We get a lot of offense off our defense. That’s why we scored 41 points in the second half.”