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CIF basketball: Separation of powers

West Ranch falls to top-seeded Mission Viejo by razor-thin margin in CIF-SS Div. IA quarterfinals

Posted: February 25, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 25, 2012 1:55 a.m.

West Ranch point guard Bo Vaughn walks away from the court as members of Mission Viejo celebrate following their 81-77 win over the Wildcats in overtime of a CIF-Southern Section Division IA quarterfinal game on Friday at West Ranch High School.

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Four points. That was the only discernible difference between West Ranch and Mission Viejo on the basketball court.
That, and the fact that the top-seeded Diablos are moving on after one thrilling game.

The Wildcats rallied to force overtime but couldn’t make as many plays late in an 81-77 loss in the CIF-Southern Section Division IA quarterfinals on Friday at West Ranch High School.

So what was the difference?

“I can’t give you an answer,” said West Ranch head coach Shant Bicakci. “It’s just how the cookie crumbles, or whatever analogy you want to use.”

The ninth-seeded Wildcats (17-11) certainly didn’t crumble. Down by five points with three minutes left in regulation, they scored the next six points, capped by a 3-pointer by guard Kevin Harris.

Mission Viejo (26-3) responded with back-to-back baskets to go up 68-64 with 25 seconds, but West Ranch forward Ako Kaluna canned a 3-pointer with 16 seconds. After Diablos guard Michael Cramer missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Kaluna was fouled with three seconds left.

He made the first free throw but missed the second to tie the score at 68-68 and send the game into overtime.

“I just wanted to close the game out,” Kaluna said. “Those were probably the biggest free throws of my life.”

In overtime, Mission Viejo went up 75-72 and went 6-of-6 from the line the rest of the way to ice the game.

While West Ranch showed its resiliency late, the Diablos demonstrated theirs throughout the game. Center Sage Stone, a 6-foot-7-inch inside presence who tried to contain Kaluna, spent most of the night in foul trouble, so Mission Viejo relied on its talented lineup of guards and swingmen.

When West Ranch shot out to a 9-2 lead, the visitors battled back to tie the score at 14-14 after the first quarter. When the Wildcats built a 12-point lead midway through the third quarter, Mission Viejo didn’t waver.

“Our guys showed character,” said head coach Troy Roelen. “We continued to run our stuff and didn’t panic.”

By the time the third quarter had ended, the Diablos trailed by just two points at 52-50, setting the stage for a back-and-forth fourth quarter and overtime.

For the game, West Ranch outrebounded Mission Viejo 34-33, and both teams finished with 15 assists.

The Wildcats’ frontcourt of Kaluna and forward Kyle Williams gave them a boost all night. Kaluna finished with a game-high 27 points and 14 rebounds, while Williams scrapped down low and wound up with 19 points and 11 boards.

“It’s just the character of our team,” Bicakci said. “Our guys, they’re just warriors.”

Harris shot just 33 percent from downtown but made big shots down the stretch and finished with 21 points.

Point guard Bo Vaughn paced a patient halfcourt offense in the first half. While his jumper wasn’t as effective as it has been in recent games, he still scored eight points to go along with eight assists.

Nobody played better than Diablos forward Evan Zeller in the fourth quarter and overtime. He scored 13 of his 19 points over those two periods, and he didn’t miss a shot.

Without guard Cordell Anderson, the Diablos might not be hosting Crescenta Valley in the Division IA semifinals on Tuesday. He shot a scalding 62.5 percent from beyond the arc and led Mission Viejo with 22 points, 16 of which came in the second and third quarters before West Ranch began extending its defense toward him.

The Wildcats matched the deepest postseason run in school history, following the 2008-09 team’s run to the Division IIAA quarterfinals. They also won the first Foothill League title in program history this season, with Kaluna, Harris, Williams and several others returning next season.

West Ranch loses seniors Vaughn, David Harris, Clark Stokes, Justino Franco and Josh Caton.

“I love this team,” Kaluna said. “There isn’t anybody we’d trade. We wouldn’t want to play with anyone else.”

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