Lynden assistant coach Blake VanDalen rarely uses the scoreboard to determine whether or not the Lions are leading or trailing.
He doesn't need to.
The Lynden boys' basketball team owns a firm belief that success is synonymous with defensive effort, and VanDalen and the rest of the Lions coaching staff have created a way to measure hustle.
"Sometimes the basketball pundits or experts make it more complicated than it really is," said head coach Brian Roper, speaking on his team's defense. "It's a pretty simple game. If you have good athletes who play hard and are in position and compete on each possession, you're going to have a good chance to win."
The Lions give up an average of 46.4 points to opposing offenses, which ranks first in the Northwest Conference, and Lynden is coming off a masterful defensive effort during its 56-35 state regional win against Sumner last weekend.
The win earned the Lions (20-3) a Hardwood Classic berth, and they'll face Hockinson (19-5) in the Class 2A state quarterfinals at 9 p.m. Thursday, March 6, at Yakima's SunDome.
When Roper came to Lynden he brought with him a defensive effort tracking system, and each game VanDalen is responsible for logging what the team calls hustle points.
"When I watch the game, I don't really watch the score and things like that," VanDalen said. "All I'm looking for is who's hustling. (A chart) is posted up in the team room. The kids check it as much as they check scoring stats and rebounding stats. They check hustle points. It's a competition."
Hustle points include dives, wow rebounds, drawing an over-the-back call by blocking out, taking a charge, deflections and deflections with turnovers. The Lions also have a point column for rewarding players when VanDalen hears a coach yell "good hustle." They also have one negative column called loaf, when a player can earn a negative point for doing just that, loafing.
Conceptually, the Lions have played roughly a 50-50 mix of man-to-man defense and zone schemes, a deviation from Lynden's traditional constant man defense its played in the past. But Roper clearly stated any defensive system will fail without high-energy and dedication on the defensive end.
"It's really kind of foundational to what we try to be about," said Roper of Lynden's hustle points, "because if you don't play with great effort, it doesn't matter what defense you're playing, it's not going to be very good."
Senior guard Jaremy Martin compared Lynden's hustle points to scoring on defense.
The team has become deeply invested in the scoring system, and Martin vouched he and his teammates check the chart as often as they check their scoring and rebounding stats.
"Coaches always get on us about effort," Martin explained. "It's all about effort. I believe that once we get going or someone else gets going, it really brings out the effort in everyone else. Watching Trey (Shagren) and Jalani (Phelps) guard their top two players on the other team, it really brings out the best in us, because we want to be like them."
This year in particular, the Lions have spent the season trying to find their identity and discover each other's individual roles thanks to last year's massive graduating class.
Players such as Scott Hastings and Sterling Somers have taken ownership of scoring roles. Martin, Shagren and Jordan Wittenberg have served as distributors and assist men. VanDalen said he believes hustle points help players find where they can make game-altering contributions.
"It's a big deal to me," said Phelps of Lynden's defensive points. "Guys have different roles. We have scorers, and I'm more of a defensive guy, so that's a big deal for me to be on top of the hustle points. I know I'm not going to back down."
The Lions are a long, physical group. Nearly the entire roster was part of the football team's state championship, and their innate, tough playing style has spurred the defense.
Roper realized early Lynden's athleticism and knew his club was capable of being a strong defensive group.
Senior forward Parker Harrison first noticed what the Lions could be during the second game of the season.
"The first game we gave up 69 points," he said. "But then against Baker we gave up like eight points in the first half or something like that. I just realized then we had a lot of potential to be a really great defensive team."
While Lynden's coaching staff has preached hustling and the hustle-points system, Roper lauded seniors Harrison, Martin and Phelps for promoting it amongst the younger players.
"It sets an example," Harrison said. "Seeing seniors dive for every loose ball and working for every hustle point shows to the underclassmen that hustle really does win games."
Never has that been more apparent than during the last two weeks.
Lynden struggled a bit during the final week of the regular season. Hastings was out with a wrist injury, and the defensive effort wasn't at the level the Lions desired.
Lynden hung on for a six-point win over Ferndale and a two-point win against Meridian before losing in triple OT to Sedro-Woolley.
"Scooter was a big part of it, but the other big part was our hustle points, I think," Phelps said. "The last couple of games, we were kind of on the rocks, not averaging many hustle points. Other teams were getting loose balls, but now we've really bought into it. We see the results when we hustle. ... We've been playing our best defense of the whole season these last couple games."
The Lions held Anacortes to 43 points, which was 24.7 points below its season average. They limited Lake Washington to 53 points, which was 10.8 points below its season average. Finally, Lynden allowed just 35 points to Sumner, which was 22.3 points below its average.
"Luckily at this time of the year, we are starting to play some of the best basketball we have played all year," Martin said. "We've definitely come together as a team and family, and I think when we get (to the SunDome), we need to go into every game with our mindset of a 32-minute grind and fight until the end."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2826. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
LYNDEN vs. HOCKINSON
When: 9 p.m. Thursday, March 6
Where: Yakima SunDome
2013-14 LYNDEN BOYS' BASKETBALL STATS
Player G Pts. Avg.
Jaremy Martin 22 220 10.0
Jordan Wittenberg 21 147 7.0
Noah King 7 0 0.0
Parker Harrison 22 92 4.2
Sterling Somers 22 310 14.1
Trey Shagren 20 50 2.5
Andrew Kivlighn 8 11 1.4
Scott Hastings 17 227 13.4
Jalani Phelps 21 154 7.3
Davis Bode 5 4 0.8
Caden Lair 14 33 2.4
Connor Shine 3 3 1.0
LYNDEN (20-3, 9-3)
Dec. 14 at Holy Cross W 89-69
Dec. 16 at Mount Baker W 54-21
Dec. 17 Tamawanis Secondary W 57-42
Dec. 19 at Bellingham* W 60-47
Dec. 21 at Sumner W 43-40
Dec. 23 Sehome W 66-59
Dec. 30 King's W 60-52
Jan. 2 Squalicum* W 58-46
Jan. 7 at Burlington-Edison* W 45-44
Jan. 10 Anacortes* L 58-57
Jan. 11 White River W 66-51
Jan. 14 at Nooksack Valley* W 71-32
Jan. 17 at Lynden Christian* L 48-39
Jan. 23 Mount Baker* W 59-35
Jan. 27 at Sehome* W 63-53
Jan. 31 at Blaine* W 67-47
Feb. 4 Ferndale* W 58-52
Feb. 6 at Meridian* W 39-37
Feb. 11 Sedro-Woolley* L 67-64 (3OT)
CLASS 2A BI-DISTRICT TOURNAMENT
Feb. 15 at Archbishop Murphy W 37-36
Feb. 18 at Anacortes W 53-43
Feb. 22 Lake Washington (at Mount Vernon) W 57-53
CLASS 2A STATE TOURNAMENT
March 1 Sumner (at Mount Vernon) W 56-35
March 6 Hockinson (at SunDome) 9 p.m.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.