West Linn freshman Kaylor Buse had 27 points and eight rebounds in Wednesday's playoff win over Sunset. (Photo by Jon Olson)
West Linn freshman Kaylor Buse had 27 points and eight rebounds in Wednesday's playoff win over Sunset. (Photo by Jon Olson)

WEST LINN – Four weeks ago, West Linn's girls basketball season took a dramatic turn when five players – including four starters – were involved in a car crash.

Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, but everything that the young Lions were building toward was put on hold as they dealt with the traumatic fallout.

“Next day it was lots of tears,” coach Brooke Cates said. “They were all shook to the core. So to bounce back from that took us a good couple weeks.”

The Lions got back to work, and Wednesday night, they moved one win away from the eight-team state tournament with an 80-68 home win over Sunset in the first round of the 6A playoffs. Ninth-seeded West Linn (18-7) can earn a trip to the Chiles Center on Saturday with a win at No. 8 Southridge (21-4).

“That's been our goal since the beginning of the season,” sophomore point guard Reese Jordan said. “I really feel like we're going to do it. We've just got to come hard and play our game.”

The Lions, led by the 5-foot-10 Jordan and 5-8 freshman guard Kaylor Buse, are shaping up as a 6A contender in the coming years. But an appearance in the state tournament this year would go a long way in their development.

“Hopefully we'll get there. It would be so awesome,” Cates said. “I want it for them. I have been there, and I want them to be able to feel what it's like walking in that Chiles Center, and being one of those top eight teams in the state. To make it would be really special, especially this year with such a young, young group.”

The Lions were clicking against No. 24 seed Sunset (13-13) as they scored a season-high 80 points and racked up 27 assists and 14 steals. Buse had 27 points and eight rebounds and Jordan had 20 points and 10 assists. They also got 13 points from senior Alaina Moore and 11 points from sophomore Ayla Arnold.

“Right now I think we're going the way we want to be,” Buse said. “I definitely think we can surprise some people. We share the ball super well, we play for each other. We're playing for our seniors this year.”

The games of Jordan and Buse -- who entered Wednesday leading the team in scoring with averages of 16.2 and 15.3 points, respectively -- complement each other.

“They're a good one-two combo,” Cates said. “From the beginning of the year to now, I have literally just watched the game slow down for them. And now you see what you get. They're pretty good.”

Jordan runs the show, whipping the ball to open shooters and finding weak-side cutters.

“I value my passes just as much as scoring,” Jordan said. “It's really fun.”

According to Cates, Buse has come a long way in adapting to the varsity level this season. Against Sunset, she got most of her baskets on cuts and drives to the hoop, often finishing through contact.

“She's always been good, but these last three weeks, that's when things kind of shifted for her,” Cates said. “She got her confidence, like, 'All right, I've got this, try to guard me.' … Now she's playing like she's a sophomore. She's a very, very special, unique talent, and I'm just glad she's wearing West Linn.”

Jordan often looks for Buse.

“It's awesome having another player on the court who's super talented,” Jordan said.

West Linn led Sunset 36-35 at half before gaining separation in the third quarter. Buse had a three-point play to start an 8-0 run that opened a 48-38 edge. Buse had two more baskets later in the quarter as the lead expanded to 58-44.

Sunset, which got 14 points each from seniors Gabriella Ramm and Riley Morris-Rexford, drew within 70-62 with three minutes left but Buse scored two baskets in a 6-0 run that sealed the outcome.

“We knew Sunset was going to show up and give us a really good game,” Cates said. “They're scrappy, they wouldn't go away. I'm just happy we got the win.”

West Linn has five sophomores and four freshmen on the roster, including Buse's twin sister, Kyla. Next season, the Lions will add another Buse, 6-0 Kinley, an eighth-grader.

“We're going to get a big girl,” Cates said. “I've got a great eighth-grade class coming behind these freshmen and sophomores. It's exciting.”

Said Jordan: “Knowing all the potential we have – and all the deep bench, too – I'm so excited for the next years we have together.”

The Lions can build on the chemistry they have developed this season, a connection that grew deeper after what they endured together on the night of Feb. 1.

“The love we have for each other really kept us through it,” Kaylor Buse said. “Mentally it was tough to deal with. But we came together the next day at practice and we talked about it. We were really there for each other.”