Pilot basketball starts strong, capturing their first three games and the Athletes in Action Classic

By The Beacon | November 18, 2010 9:00pm

(Bryan Brenize -- The Beacon)

By Bruce Garlinghouse, Staff Writer -- garlingh13@up.edu

The Pilots had no trouble taking care of business this weekend at the Athletes in Action Classic, winning all three games by at least 14 points.

The Pilots opened the tournament with a decisive 20-point win over the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee after the Pilots jumped out to an 11-0 lead early in the first half. Seniors Jared Stohl and Luke Sikma began their senior campaigns in decisive fashion, both scoring in double digits. Stohl went 5-9 from deep, leading the team with 15 points, and Sikma recorded his first double-double of the season, scoring 14 and raking in 12 rebounds.

Sikma was selected to the All-Tournament team and was the tournament MVP. He was also named the Co-Player of the Week in the WCC earlier in the week.

Freshman guard Tanner Riley came off the bench to score 14 points, scoring nearly every time he touched the ball. Riley was selected to the All-Tournament team.

"Its nice seeing the younger guys doing well. It was great for Tanner to be selected to the team," Sikma said.

The Pilots had little time to rest, facing UC-Davis on Saturday and rounding out the weekend against Florida Atlantic.

The Pilots still had plenty left in the tank going in, jumping out to an early lead again, which grew to as much as 21 after a Riley three at the nine minute mark in the first half. Riley led a deadly Pilots shooting attack with 15 points.

The Pilots shot 71 percent from the field in the first half. On the defensive end, they held the Aggies to 38 percent shooting from the field, resulting in a 75-60 win.

Coming off two easy wins, the Pilots faced their toughest opponent of the tournament on Sunday: Florida Atlantic. Both teams were undefeated going into the game. The Pilots changed suit from the last two games, creating most of their scoring opportunities in the paint in the first half.

Sikma and senior center Kramer Knutson combined for 24 of the Pilots' 42 first-half points and Sikma racked up 14 rebounds, outrebounding the entire Florida Atlantic team in the first half. Sikma landed his third double-double of the tournament, scoring 15 points and bringing in 19 rebounds while also adding five assists and four blocks.

The Pilots' solid paint play in the first half opened up some shots for Stohl, who scored a game-high 24 points, including four threes, making him the 33rd player in Pilot history to score 1,000 points.

Early leads allowed Head Coach Eric Reveno to be liberal with his bench, extending solid minutes to all 13 players, which includes six true freshman.

"Everyone's had their growing pains," Sikma said of playing with the less experienced players. "But they've worked hard and some of the guys are getting really quality minutes."

On the offensive side of the ball, the Pilots were dangerous from deep, which allowed them to jump out to early leads. But a live or die by the three mentality proved to be high-risk high-reward when the Aggies cut the Pilots' 26 point lead down to 12 by halftime. Despite the Pilots' success from deep, Sikma said that shooting from the outside isn't necessarily their gameplan.

"The beauty of our offense is it allows us to adjust to the defense," Sikma said. "If they're pressuring Stohl and Riley hard, we can make them pay down low."

On the defensive end, the Pilots showed both man and zone defenses, sometimes switching between the two during games, which confused their opponent's offense, forcing them to beat the Pilots at their own game making them shoot long, low percentage shots.

The Pilots face what could be their toughest opponent of the season this Friday against the No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats at the Rose Garden at 7:30 p.m..

Sikma said that taking care of the ball is the most important for the Pilots to do if they want to have a chance to win.

"If we can take care of the ball and limit turnovers I definitely believe we have a chance," Sikma said.