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Held back

Grizzlies hold back a late comeback by Saugus

Posted: January 20, 2009 10:43 p.m.
Updated: January 21, 2009 5:00 a.m.

Saugus' Mark Watanabe (3) lofts a shot over Golden Valley's Trevor Wiseman during the first quarter Tuesday at Saugus High School. Watanabe led all scorers with 29 points in a 92-87 loss.

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Tuesday’s matchup between the Foothill League’s two unbeaten teams turned into the thriller everyone expected.

It just took three and a half quarters to do so.

After leading by as many as 29 points, Golden Valley thwarted a furious Saugus comeback in the fourth quarter to pick up a 92-87 victory at Saugus High School.

“In the third quarter, I was talking with my assistant coach and he was telling me that anything could happen,” said Golden Valley guard Maverick Ahanmisi. “And look what happened.”

The Centurions (10-9, 2-1) shot 58 percent from downtown in the second half and scored 58 points to gash into Golden Valley’s advantage. Saugus got within three at 85-82 after Mark Watanabe nailed a floater and Jawhar Purdy hit a pair of free throws with two and a half minutes remaining.

Saugus’ Desi Rodriguez came up with a steal on the next possession but missed a layup, and Ahanmisi drove for a bucket at the other end while also drawing Purdy’s fifth foul on the play.

A few free throws later and Golden Valley could finally breathe easily.

“It’s a game of runs, and you know a quality team like that is not going to lay down,” said Grizzlies head coach Chris Printz. “Not in this league. It’s going to be a dogfight and you’ve just got to make sure you finish.”

Saugus forced Golden Valley (18-1, 3-0) to do just that.

“We have high-character kids,” said Saugus head coach Derek Ballard. “We learned a lesson. They kind of took it to us for quite awhile and we could only take so much of it before we fought back.”

The Centurions’ run really started to pick up steam when they trimmed the lead to 80-69 with five and half minutes remaining. Double technicals were issued to Saugus for arguing calls, but Ahanmisi only hit one of the four technical free throws.

Saugus immediately went on a 9-2 run to set up the late push. During the run, Trevor Wiseman fouled out for the Grizzlies, who were already limited because of Stevie Thornton’s four personals.

“Part of the second-half problem was foul trouble, and when guys get in foul trouble, they’re afraid to defend because they’re afraid to foul,” Printz said.”We were either fouling, which allows them to score with the clock stopped, or being too cautious and allowing guys to get to the basket.”

Not allowing penetration is what helped Golden Valley build its lead in the first place.

Saugus’ drive-and-kick strategy with Watanabe and Purdy was nullified by excellent Golden Valley defense, and the Grizzlies did a good job of chasing shooters like Noel Mansour off the 3-point line.

Stevie Thornton scored 11 of his 22 points in the first quarter, and Ahanmisi poured in 17 of his team-high 24 points in the first half as Golden Valley led by 23 points at halftime.

“Our pressure was up more and we tried to deny Mark the ball and not leave those shooters open,” Ahanmisi said. “That’s what we did. That was our gameplan.”

The Grizzlies also came out with a swagger that they lacked in last Friday’s victory against Canyon.

“’Swagger’ is the exact word our coach uses,” Ahanmisi said. “Against Canyon, he said we played with a little less swagger, and he wanted to see more of that from us tonight.”

Watanabe scored a game-high 29 points for Saugus, including 20 in the second half, and Mansour added 25 while Purdy wound up with 18.

More importantly, the Centurions let the rest of the Foothill League know that they play all 32 minutes.

“I’ll tell you right now, nobody expects us to be (at the top of the league),” Ballard said. “We don’t get any props and we like it that way. We have a bunch of inexperienced kids that now have experience, and we’re ready to battle.”

jgulino@the-signal.com

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