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Monday, May 5, 2008

BJ-LEAGUE

Lottich's old-school ways find niche in 2008


Staff writer

He is a throwback to a different era, an old-school player in a game that has become increasingly complex.

News photo
Key component: Evessa guard Matt Lottich averaged 20.2 points per game during the regular season and was one of the driving forces behind Osaka's run to a third straight bj-league championship this season. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

The shorts grow longer by the year, tattoos now permeate many a body and music has taken over the arenas, but this guy looks like he could be straight out of the movie "Hoosiers."

Point guard Matt Lottich has been an integral part of all three of the Osaka Evessa's championship teams and plays with a hard-nosed intensity that was on full display in Sunday night's 66-56 victory over the Tokyo Apache.

Filling the void left by the departure of teammate David Palmer, the bj-league's MVP last season, Lottich stepped up and directed the Evessa through a difficult season which saw star forward Lynn Washington miss 30 games with a serious knee injury.

Lottich, who averaged 20.2 points per game during the regular season, hustled all night in Osaka's win over the Apache, playing 39 of 40 minutes.

Though his endurance was impressive, it was his entire body of work that shone most brightly. The Stanford product is a fundamentally sound player during an era where that is an increasing rarity.

"I'm not the most athletic guy," said Lottich after the victory. "I have to find other ways to contribute. Playing hard and playing to win are what I'm all about."

Early in the second quarter he dove out of bounds to save a loose ball, redirected it to a teammate, and saw his team score a basket at the other end of the floor.

He ran the fast break all out this night, controlling the ball while looking for the open man, boxed out whenever a shot went up and set solid screens.

In Saturday's 100-73 semifinal victory over Rizing Fukuoka, Lottich scored a game-high 30 points with a full arsenal of shots, which included five 3-pointers. Sunday's contest was more of a defensive battle, with the Apache trying to prevent Lottich from taking over.

"We played a box-and-one defense to try to stop Matt from getting hot early," Tokyo coach Joe Bryant said. "We didn't want him to put on a performance like last night."

The plan worked as Lottich was limited to just 12 points, but he illustrated his versatility by finding other ways to help his team win.

Midway through the fourth quarter, when Tokyo center Dean Browne came up with a loose ball while laying on the floor, Lottich, a Chicago native, ripped it out of his hands for a steal.

The biggest of his game-high six steals came in the final minute, when he picked off a crosscourt inbounds pass to seal the title for Osaka.

"They were focusing on me at the start," Lottich said. "I knew that I couldn't force it. It was such a defensive game. I tried to be more aggressive in the second half.

"They defended us tougher than anyone ever has," Lottich noted. "I'm really happy we won this game."

Lottich played for coach Mike Montgomery at Stanford and says that he learned a lot from him.

"He taught us that basketball is game of inches — every possession, every pass is important. We focused on how to do the little things right."



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