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March 09, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Palo Alto discovering what hoop life is like without Lin Palo Alto discovering what hoop life is like without Lin (March 09, 2005)

by Keith Peters

Peter Diepenbrock talked a lot this season on how interesting it would be to see how his Palo Alto boys' basketball team responded to a close game.

Other than a loss to once-beaten Santa Cruz and a few early season nail-biters, the Vikings rolled over opponents in their first 29 games by substantial margins.

Well, the time for closer games is upon the Vikings. The tests aren't only tougher, but the penalty for failure is extreme.

Palo Alto began this week with a 29-1 record, its best since the 1993 Vikings went 31-0 and captured the CIF State Division III championship.

Palo Alto also began this week with a different look.

"We have a different team now," said Diepenbrock.

Gone is junior point guard Jeremy Lin, sidelined by a fractured fibula in his right leg, close to his ankle. Lin watched his teammates hold off Mitty, 45-42, last Friday in the Central Coast Section Division II championship game at the San Jose State Event Center.

That victory earned the Vikings the No. 1 seed in the Northern California Division II playoffs, which began Tuesday night against visiting Golden Valley (26-5) of Merced. Lin watched that game, as well.

Should the Vikings advance past the first round, they'll host either No. 4 Chico (23-5) or No. 5 Clayton Valley on Thursday at 7 p.m. Clayton Valley upset Pinole Valley in the North Coast Section semifinals on a three-point, buzzer-beating shot. Clayton Valley then was routed by San Ramon Valley in the NCS finale.

San Ramon Valley is the No. 2 seed in the NorCal tournament and could face Palo Alto in the NorCal finals this Saturday at ARCO Arena in Sacramento at 4 p.m. The Vikings and Wolves met in the first round of the St. Francis Invitational in December, with Paly posting a 71-50 victory. Lin scored 12 points in that game.

The task for Diepenbrock is to somehow fill Lin's talented shoes.

That will be difficult. Lin averaged 11.3 points, 7.9 assists, four steals and 4.2 rebounds and was the unquestioned floor leader for the Vikings this season. What he did best was beat the press, drive the lane and find the open man.

Diepenbrock said he'd like to see 6-foot-6 senior forward Brian Baskauskas handle the ball as much as possible this week. Baskauskas stepped up in Lin's absence last Friday and produced 24 points to shoot down Mitty in the CCS title game.

"It's a challenge," Diepenbrock said of playing without Lin. "We'll see how we respond to it."

Lin played in a pickup game at the YMCA the night before the CCS finale and was shoved into the wall during a breakaway layin, suffering what was believed to be a severely sprained ankle.

"It was my fault for being there in the first place," Lin admitted.

Lin had X-rays taken Friday morning, which didn't reveal the fracture. He had the injury X-rayed again Saturday, revealing a broken bone.

"The other day (Friday) was a pretty rough day," Diepenbrock said. "Now, we've had a game without him. The longer we go without him, the better we'll get. We can still win some games here."

Diepenbrock was impressed by how his team responded to Lin's injury, overcoming a slow first half against Mitty with a suffocating defense in the second half.

"I couldn't have asked for a better team effort," Diepenbrock said. "I told the players after the game that nothing was working offensively and the shots were going down, but none of that mattered because you found ways to make plays."

Baskauskas took it upon himself to do just that. Trailing 29-27 late in the third quarter, Baskauskas made a three-pointer for a 30-29 lead. After Mitty retook the lead by one, Baskauskas scored again to give Paly the lead for good. He scored once again and then nailed a big three-pointer for a 37-33 advantage. His two free throws with 1:25 to play made it 43-33 before Paly's defense took over down the stretch to hold off the Monarchs.

"Brian Baskauskas said, 'it's my ball game,'" Diepenbrock said.

"Obviously, losing Jeremy was very devastating for the team," said Baskauskas. "It's very tough not having your point guard. It was tough creating shots without him.

"I definitely had people tell me, 'take it over. Take it over,'" Baskauskas related.

The senior had plenty of help. Junior forwards Cooper Miller (9 points, 4 rebounds) and Martin Mouton (7 points, 7 rebounds) had standout efforts.

It will take similar efforts for Palo Alto to keep alive its hopes of a state title.

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