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Webb of Resistance

Senior Guard Fills Role of Stopper for No. 1-Ranked Oxnard's Suffocating Man-to-Man Defense

February 06, 2001|JOHN ORTEGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OXNARD — Zone defenses are for teams that can't play man-to-man.

Henry Lobo, the boys' basketball coach at Oxnard High, will never say that.

But senior guard Erik Webb and his Yellowjacket teammates contend that teams that play zone defense are covering up for deficiencies in their man-to-man coverage.

"That's the way we look at it," said the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Webb. "We don't want to play zone because we want to show that we can play with everybody with man."

That doesn't mean Oxnard (21-3, 6-0 in Pacific View League play) never plays zone. The Yellowjackets typically use a zone defense during inbounds plays and they went to it at the end of two victories this season after 6-foot-8 center Nicholas Curtis fouled out.

But a tenacious, pressing, hawking, man-to-man defense has contributed greatly to Oxnard's 64-20 record over the last three seasons.

Former guard Matthew Merricks, the league most valuable player last season, was the defensive catalyst on Oxnard teams that went 21-7 and 22-5 the previous two seasons.

Webb has filled that role this season on a Yellowjacket squad that is ranked No. 1 in the region by The Times and can clinch its third consecutive league title with a victory over visiting Camarillo tonight.

"I never would have expected it a year ago," Lobo said of Webb's role as stopper. "He'd get lost [on defense] half the time. He'd gamble a little bit more than he should gamble.

"Now he picks and chooses and he's making the right decision [nearly every time]. People who watch him [on defense] see a complete change from last year to this year and see that we don't have to cover our backs because Erik is out of position. He's come full circle."

Tom McCollum, coach at league rival Hueneme, has noticed the change in Webb, a player previously known for his athleticism and outside shot.

"He seems a lot more focused on what his job is," McCollum said. "Last year, he was one of those players who ran up and down the court and had a good time and seemed to love playing the game. But now he's more knowledgeable about what he's doing on the court, about what his responsibilities are on both offense and defense.

"He had a tendency to drift last year, but not now. He's taking his athletic ability and confining it."

Webb, whose uncle, Craig Davis, was an All-West Coast Conference player for Pepperdine in 1990, leads Oxnard in steals (3.3 average) and three-point shooting (34 of 90 for 37.8%) and ranks second in scoring (11.4) to Curtis. He was a starter for the Yellowjackets as a junior, but his defensive lapses were frequent enough that Lobo and his staff discussed bringing him off the bench this season.

"We told him, 'You need to concentrate on your defense and being in the right spots,' " Lobo said. "You can't be running around with your head cut off. I don't care if you score 50 points. If you can't stop anybody, you're not going to start. . . . We just wanted to get into his mind that it's not just about spotting up and bombing away. It's about defending."

The soft-spoken Webb, known to teammates as E Webb and E Dub, as in W, got the message.

He turned up his defensive intensity in league and tournament play last summer and started seriously weightlifting for the first time.

"[The weightlifting] has really helped me out a lot," Webb said. "I can bang with everybody underneath now. I feel a lot stronger and it's made my [outside] shot better. I pull it up more instead of keeping it down [low]. . . . I feel stronger and I don't get tired as much anymore."

Lobo noticed Webb's defensive improvement over the summer, but he didn't see the benefits of the weightlifting until school began in late August.

"I saw him on the first day of school and I said, 'My God,' " Lobo said. "He just kept working hard and he got quicker and stronger and faster."

Webb's improvements weren't confined to athletics. He has raised his grade-point average to 2.5.

"[Lobo] has really motivated me," Webb said. "He talked to me a couple of times. He got on me a couple of times in front of everybody else to motivate me to do better on the court, but to also do better in the classroom and everywhere else."

Webb's defensive progression has made him Oxnard's most improved player from last season, but Lobo knows that Webb's outside shooting could determine how far Oxnard advances in the Southern Section Division I-AAA playoffs.

"Our advantage in league right now is to pass the ball inside [to Curtis] and score," Lobo said. "But we know down the line that [teams are] going to put [a lot of] guys on Nicholas and say, 'OK. Can anybody else score?' "

If the answer is yes, Oxnard could make a deep playoff run in a division that will include top-ranked Upland, No. 2 Rialto Eisenhower and No. 3 Long Beach Poly.

If the answer is no, the No. 9 Yellowjackets again could become an early-round upset victim. Last season, visiting Warren beat Oxnard, 56-53, in the second round of the Division I-AA playoffs after the Yellowjackets had a first-round bye.

"That loss has motivated us a lot this season," Webb said. "If we can win league and everything else, then we can go into the playoffs and win a lot of games. Maybe win everything if things happen our way."

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