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Prep boys hoops:’Cats’ knockout punch

West Ranch starts fast, then has to hang on late to top Vikings

Posted: January 23, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 23, 2013 2:00 a.m.

West Ranch's Kevin Harris, background, is fouled as he goes up for a shot on Tuesday at Valencia.

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There’s one thing West Ranch has been lacking this season, and it almost came back to bite the Wildcats on Tuesday at Valencia High.

Call it the ability to finish or deliver the knockout blow or whatever you want, but West Ranch let the Valencia Vikings hang around and had to turn it on late to win 70-63.

“I don’t get it. We were up (16) in the first quarter. It’s something we’ve got to do better,” said West Ranch head coach Shant Bicakci.

A 26-10 first-quarter lead was 54-53 midway through the fourth quarter.

But the Wildcats (15-5 overall, 5-0 in the Foothill League) went 9-of-9 down the stretch from the free-throw line to Valencia’s 3-of-9 and that was a major difference.

Credit Valencia (14-5, 3-2) for hanging in there, though.

West Ranch was blazing quick out of the gate, throwing the equivalent of a flurry of punches that sent the Vikings to the mat.

The main puncher was West Ranch guard Kevin Harris.

Harris, who has been the Foothill League’s best player through the first-half of play, scored 17 points in the first 5 minutes and 13 seconds of the game.

Completing West Ranch’s flurry was center Ako Kaluna.

Kaluna took the ball at the top of the key with two minutes to play in the first quarter and the Valencia student section began to chant “Ako’s tired.”

The 6-foot-7-inch, 275-pounder then took his opponent off the dribble and drove inside for a layup and foul.

He then looked at the crowd with a slight nod.

“When I hear stuff like that, it makes me chuckle inside,” Kaluna said.

But Valencia answered with an 8-0 run at the end of the first quarter, keyed by the play of point guard Riley Honaker, who despite being one of the smallest players on the court, attacked the basket without fear.

He scored a team-high 18 points in the game.

His partner in leading the comeback was forward Kayode Wellington, whose flashy play sparked the Vikings throughout.

He had four dunks in the game, including two alley-oops delivered by Honaker, and scored 17 points.

Wellington also played a stopper against Kaluna, who was constantly double teamed.

“We just kept playing defense and kept our heads in it,” Wellington said of the reason for the comeback.

An 8-1 Valencia run brought the Vikings to within five, down 33-28 midway through the second quarter.

By halftime, West Ranch was up 40-35. Valencia outscored it 25-14 after the 26-10 Wildcats start.

Harris was quiet in the second and third quarters, taking only five shots and producing five points.

Kaluna was being swarmed.

Valencia kept coming at West Ranch.

That led to the Vikings trailing only 52-51 at the start of the fourth quarter.

Harris livened up in the fourth, scoring 10 more points to finish with 32 on the night and Kaluna scored six of his 17 in the frame.

West Ranch started the final frame on a 10-2 run — a run the Vikings couldn’t recover from.

“It will bite us,” Kaluna said of his team slowing down after hot starts. “But none of us are too worried about that. Something happens where we start fighting back.”

Now Valencia has to fight back after losing two straight league games after starting 3-0.

“I know we can play with just about everybody,” said Valencia head coach Rocket Collins. “But we have lapses and that hurts us at times.”

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