If the Oak Park and River Forest High School boys basketball team learned anything this season, it's that slow starts and poor defense will trip up even the best of teams.
Judging by what the Huskies did in their regular season finale Wednesday night, neither of those things will be a problem in the playoffs.
OPRF gave up just eight points in the first half and cruised to a shockingly easy 52-28 victory over Downers Grove South in a West Suburban Conference crossover game in Downers Grove. The Huskies (20-6), who didn't allow a two-point basket until the 5:30 mark of the third quarter, take a six-game winning streak into the playoffs, which begin Tuesday at the Class 4A Leyden Regional.
"We learned from the games that we lost during the season that we can't come out slow," OPRF senior forward Simmie Cobbs said. "We have to come out hitting the first punch and if we can do that we can get this thing rolling."
That's exactly what the Huskies did against Downers South (11-13), a notoriously dangerous three-point shooting team. With the visitors flying around the perimeter and harassing every shooter, the Mustangs made only 2-of-21 shots from the floor in the first half and 10-of-47 overall. That included a season-worst 3-for-24 from three-point range.
"We knew they put up a bunch of shots so we came in the game with our Huskie defense, which is deny the ball all the time so we can limit those shots," Cobbs said. "I guess it kind of worked because they threw up some shots that didn't fall.
"That was our whole game plan this week was to deny the three-point shot and play team defense. Once we got that done we knew the rest would play out."
Cobbs scored seven of his game-high 11 points in the first quarter and also had nine rebounds and three steals before he, like the rest of the starters, took a seat midway through the third quarter after building a 40-10 lead.
Senior point guard Erick Locke added nine points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists and Dallis Flowers came off the bench to score 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting for the Huskies, who shot 21-for-43 from the floor and 5-of-7 from the line and outrebounded the Mustangs 36-15.
The Huskies were sloppy at times, committing 27 turnovers, but they forced 19 of their own, including 14 on steals.
"Defense has turned it up for us," Locke said. "We know we can score with the best of guys but we're really locked in to playing defense and getting points off turnovers.
"That's really where we thrive and that's where we can stretch out in games, so I think this is a big confidence-builder. Our confidence is really growing and we're going to be ready to make a deep run in the playoffs."