The Chris Mills era ended last night at Fairfax High thanks to a rarely used and little practiced Westchester defensive technique--the box-and-one defense.
Westchester, sixth seed in the 4-A City playoffs, edged fourth-seed Fairfax, the defending 4-A champion, 45-42, despite 18 points from Mills, the star senior headed for Kentucky.
The Comets began with a man-to-man defense and quickly switched to a box-and-one. Mills, shadowed constantly by several Comets, gave in, scoring only two points in the first half as Westchester took a 24-16 lead into the locker room.
"We haven't gone to that defense all year," said elated Westchester Coach Ed Azzam. "It could have killed us, but the players believed in it. We practiced it only a couple of times and they made it work."
Renaud Gordon, Booker Waugh and Scott Crawford supplied most of the pressure against Mills. But in the second half, it looked like Fairfax had figured out how to beat the strategy.
Mills (6-7) usually plays in the pivot, but to dissect the box-and-one he brought the ball up court and started hitting his jumper.
By the final buzzer, he had canned 16 second-half points. But what he accomplished wasn't on his mind.
"It's really hard on everybody to lose like this," Mills said. "This is something I'll feel all my life."
Mills, the City 4-A player of the year, did not find Westchester's defense unbeatable. It was his 6 for 15 shooting and other team mistakes that irked him.
"I was frustrated for a little bit," he said, "but then when I started bringing it up I knew their defense would be easy to break. There were just a lot of things that we could have done, but didn't."
Westchester point guard Sam Crawford could not have been happier. Crawford, a junior, led all Comets with 13 points and took control at the start of the final quarter, driving between two Lions for a flashy layup as he was fouled and following seconds later made a three-pointer.
"It was that time," Crawford said, referring to the game's most critical moments when Westchester had to have a basket. "We needed it and it didn't matter whom we went to in that situation." What mattered most was the Comet defense. Crawford knew that from the beginning.
"We knew that if we could get Chris into a game where he'd force his shots, he'd hurt himself. He just got frustrated."