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The Day After Hoops: Marquee Matchup II

With one half of Foothill League play complete, the same two teams are battling

Posted: January 24, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 24, 2013 2:00 a.m.

(Left) West Ranch's Kevin Harris (21) shoots against Valencia defender Kayode Wellington (14) at Valencia High School on Tuesday.

 

Before the Foothill League season started, the first game was circled on the calendar as the marquee boys basketball matchup of the season.

And as the second half of league begins, the first game is marked as the next marquee matchup of the season — Hart at West Ranch.

West Ranch and Hart came into the Foothill League as the favorites for the league title.

If the first half is any indication, West Ranch remains the favorite with Hart in a close second.

How close?

Seven points.

That’s what separated the two teams in the first game on Jan. 8 — a 70-63 West Ranch victory.

In that game, West Ranch senior guard Kevin Harris launched his campaign for Foothill League Player of the Year and hasn’t let up.

In Tuesday’s 70-63 win over Valencia, Harris scored 32 points, 17 of which came in the first five minutes of the game.

Harris’ calm was a major reason for West Ranch’s win against Hart the first time around.

At the same time, Hart acknowledges that the magnitude of the game the first time around got to it.

“I think we’ve got to remember it’s another Foothill League game,” said Hart head coach Tom Kelly. “We feel like we let one get away. We let it be too big of a game. We were too emotional last time.”

Hart’s key scorer Lewis Stallworth admitted the same in an interview that will air on signalscv.com on Thursday.

Stallworth was a volume shooter in the game.

But the streaky guard, along with backcourt mate Myles Franklin and Hart’s depth match up well with Harris, center Ako Kaluna and a supporting cast that deserves respect.

West Ranch head coach Shant Bicakci was equally unwilling to talk about the game as a “big one,” as Kelly.

“Honestly, if we play how we are supposed to play for the full 32 minutes, I’ll be happy and I’m confident we will do well,” he said. “I know it sounds cliche, but this game is just like them all — we much approach it like every other one.”

The team that West Ranch just beat, Valencia, has its own big game on Friday.

The Vikings started 3-0 in league play, to the surprise of many, but has lost the last two games.

Valencia has a turning point game at Saugus.

“It is a key game,” admitted Valencia head coach Rocket Collins.

Getting back to the surprise part, that label was mostly because the Vikings missed the postseason for the first time in Collins’ 13 years guiding the program.

Make no mistake, though, Valencia has talent.

Senior point guard Riley Honaker is fearless, senior forward Kayode Wellington is exciting and junior guard Jaleel Howard can score.

The Vikings are also deep.

Yet what Collins and the Vikings have done deserves credit.

“When we win, we don’t get credit. But I’m not looking for credit,” Collins said. “I know we can play with most (teams).”

Valencia beat Saugus the first time around, 55-50, when the Centurions were struggling.

Yet the Cents are coming off consecutive victories after an 0-3 start to league.

Saugus beat Golden Valley 62-53 on Tuesday and could say it’s a different team from the first time Valencia saw it.

Canyon is really a different team from a week ago.

That’s because its top player Dean Hendrix-Davis returned on Tuesday from a mid-December car accident for the Cowboys’ 68-50 loss to Hart.

“We looked like a completely different team, there’s no two ways about it,” said Canyon coach Sean DeLong on Tuesday about Hendrix-Davis’ return. “He’s the heart and soul of Canyon basketball. It’s like losing the starting quarterback in football. He plays, defends, rebounds. We have a whole different energy.”

Canyon opens league play with a Golden Valley team that’s winless in league.

Yet four of the team’s losses have been by 10 points or less.



Girls

Valencia didn’t come into the season as the league title favorite, but the Vikings enter the second half with that title.

The Vikings stole that title from Canyon with a 40-38 win on Jan. 15.

They almost lost it with a 43-41 win on Tuesday against West Ranch on Tuesday — a game they trailed for three quarters.

But the Vikings’ depth — with an array of talent in the front and back court — has overwhelmed most teams in league and will key them going forward.

Valencia starts with Saugus on Friday and faces Canyon in the rematch on Feb. 1.

Canyon took its frustrations out on Hart on Tuesday with a 71-29 win on Tuesday.

Senior Alia McCoy scored 24 points in the game and on the girls’ side has been the area’s best player in the first half of league play.

Meanwhile, Hart, which has been more competitive in 2013 than 2012, won its first league game since Feb. 8, 2011 with a 53-44 win over Golden Valley Jan. 15.

Both Hart and Golden Valley have made strides, but still are at least a year from competing in the Foothill.

Both teams are keyed by underclassmen who have shown a lot of promise — Breze Kimble for Hart and Mariah Madison for Golden Valley.

That leaves West Ranch and Saugus — the two teams that could decide third place in the Foothill League.

Saugus is in the driver’s seat at 3-2 and West Ranch is 2-3.

Those teams meet Feb. 1 at Saugus.

The Centurions took the first round 45-37 on Jan. 15.

What could decide that one is the play of Wildcats junior guard Whitney Branham, who has been one of the league’s best backcourt performers this season.


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