By Brandon HENSLEY
It rained during the first quarter of last Friday’s basketball game between the Crescenta Valley Falcons and Westlake Warriors. No, the gym didn’t need its ceiling patched up, but rather the rain came from within, specifically from the guys wearing orange jerseys.
By the end of the first quarter, Westlake had drained eight 3-pointers – count ‘em, eight – and built a commanding 36-20 lead. What happened afterward was an admirable comeback by the Falcons, but they ultimately fell short 86-78.
With the loss, CV finished fourth in the annual Falcon Classic. The team was relegated to playing for third place when it lost to Kennedy High the night before (Kennedy ended up getting crushed by Hart in the championship game 69-44. Hart was 6-0 as of Wednesday afternoon).
“The challenges kept getting tougher as the games went on,” said guard Nick Springer.
It’s still tournament time for CV. The Falcon Classic, the first batch of games that count, yielded a 2-2 record for the Falcons, and now they head west to play in the San Fernando Valley Invite Friday and Saturday, and then again from Dec. 20 to Dec. 22.
Looking back on the first week, it would probably be tough for anyone to give them a higher grade than a C. They led Kennedy 46-36 in the third quarter before the Cougars called a timeout, got their act together and pulled off the comeback, 58-55.
Springer had his 3-pointer deflected at the buzzer, although it looked like the defender hit Springer’s arm. That would have given CV a chance to make three free throws and send the game into overtime.
But that’s no excuse for the poor offensive showing altogether. During the last 12 minutes of the game, the Falcons scored just nine points. Springer said after playing in two blowout victories over Simi Valley and Quartz Hill to start the tournament, the team assumed beating Kennedy was a forgone conclusion.
“We had so much confidence we just thought we were going to go out there and beat them,” he said.
With that loss came a wake-up call, and head coach Shawn Zargarian warned his team about the dangers Westlake presented in the final game of the tournament.
“He said from the start, ‘That team is legit. You have to play your butt off if you want to win,’” Springer said.
It didn’t look good early. In fact, it looked like CV was headed toward one heck of an embarrassing loss in its own tournament. Westlake’s Grant Lozoya, who finished with 24 points, made three 3-pointers and scored 13 in the first quarter.
The Warriors’ press defense was also key. CV was forced into committing nine turnovers in the first quarter.
“They were aggressive, that’s what they do, and we were careless,” said Zargarian. “I think we caught the ball nonchalantly at times.”
Springer agreed, and said on Monday the team was practicing hard on breaking the press.
“The thing that really killed us was turning it over in their press in the frontcourt,” he said. “That’s what they were doing. They were stealing it and getting transition [points].”
Zargarian admonished several of his players early on for lack of effort, and the Falcons finally caught on. Westlake scored just 11 points in the second quarter, and slowly but surely, the Falcons cut the deficit to single digits by the fourth quarter.
Senior guard Cole Currie, who had 23 points, led the way in the fourth with 16. His 3-pointer late made it 82-78, although CV would get no closer than that. Springer led the team with 24 points, and center Eric Patten had his strongest offensive game with 19 points, while grabbing four rebounds.
“I think last night we came out and thought we were going to win the game just because we were going to win the game,” said Zargarian on Friday. “We played with no effort, no energy, it was just walking around basically. Tonight, we showed a lot of heart, a lot of character.”
It’s looking more and more like Currie (no surprise) and Springer will carry most of the offensive load. Currie averaged 17 points last week, while Springer averaged 15. Kris Jabourian, a guard/forward, is a mostly reliable threat from the perimeter, but he’s more an energy player who does the intangibles.
Patten has struggled to put up consistent numbers, although his aggressiveness is not lacking. He sells his pump fake as well as anyone, but he gave away several baskets against Westlake by not finishing stronger underneath.
Still, after the Westlake loss, Zargarian wasn’t too upset. The effort was there, and that’s what he’s going to need from his players the most if they want to compete in the Pacific League starting next month.
“That’s how losing should feel to me; when you play as hard as you can and you’re disappointed because you played so hard and you lost the game,” he said.