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Gahr’s firepower too much for Cerritos to overcome

By Loren Kopff

The 2013 version of the Cerritos-Gahr boys basketball rivalry game was almost a carbon copy of last season’s tilt. Yes, the Gladiators picked up their sixth win on the court of the last eight non-tournament or non-forfeit meetings over the Dons.

But as was the case in last season’s game on Gahr’s court, the Gladiators turned a very close game at half into a double-digit victory in the end, knocking off the host Dons 88-75 last Friday night. Last season, Gahr scored 30 points in the third quarter en route to a 36-point victory. Last Friday night, Gahr outscored Cerritos 22-8 in the third quarter and held off a late Cerritos rally.

“We came out with a lot of energy in the third quarter,” said Gahr head coach Ricky Roper. “There weren’t really any adjustments. We were just better at what we’re supposed to do defensively.”

Cerritos (1-4) got off to a rough start, falling behind 9-0 and 16-5 in the first quarter before it made the first of several rallies in the game. Senior Kelechi Ukoha drained a three-pointer from the right wing with 1:25 left in the quarter to make it an 18-15 contest. Then a three-pointer from sophomore Evan Leonard at the top of the key ended the stanza at 18-18.

“The first quarter wasn’t good either to start,” said Cerritos head coach Jonathan Watanabe. “When you spot them nine points and it’s 9-0, that’s tough against a good team. But I love the way our guys played. It was [junior] Henry Buycks’ first game tonight and it’s tough, when you’re coming off of your first game and the speed of the play was this much. We’ll all get better.”

Buycks was coming off an ankle injury and scored 13 points, one of three Cerritos players to do so against a stocked Gahr squad that has just too much firepower for most teams. It was that firepower that poured in 28 points in the second quarter, all but seven coming from senior Malachi Hoosein and juniors Gregory and Jeremy Carlyle.

But Cerritos stayed very close and even took a pair of seven-point leads within the first two minutes of the second quarter. Eventually, Gahr would head into the locker room with a 46-45 lead in one of the highest scoring, if not the highest scoring first halves, in this city rivalry.

“They’re tough,” Roper said of Cerritos. “They went 1-3 in the [Cerritos-Gahr] classic but all of their games were competitive. They were right there with some good teams.”

But as was the case to begin the game, Gahr scored the first eight points of the third quarter and built a 15-point lead after a basket from sophomore De’Jah Pickett with 2:41 left in the quarter. The Dons crept back in the fourth quarter and trailed by four points after a driving lay-up from Buycks made it 74-70 with 3:17 left to play.

“It’s just one possession at a time, especially in this type of ballgame,” Watanabe said. “You have to play one possession all the way through. The first possession is just as important as the last possession. It’s easy to kind of fall into a lapse and that’s where you go on your runs. Can you stay focused for 32 full minutes? That’s the tough part.”

However, Jeremy Carlyle scored consecutive baskets in a 23-second span and the Gladiators scored the final seven points of the game in the final 70 seconds. Hoosein posted a game-high 26 points with seven rebounds and seven assists while Gregory Carlyle added 17 points and seven rebounds. His brother had a career-high 16 points with five assists and three steals.

“We have a lot of weapons offensively [with] both the twins [and] obviously Malachi,” Roper said. “We’re very young; Malachi is the only senior. But if we can figure out how to stop people, we’re pretty tough.”

Cerritos was led by Leonard (19 points), Ukoha (18 points) and Buycks (13 points). Cerritos will wrap up play in the Westminster Tournament on Saturday while Gahr will do the same in the North Orange County Championships.

“We’ll battle; we have a lot of good pieces,” Watanabe said. “We have a lot of guys doing a lot of good work. Tonight we got into some foul trouble and we had to go a little deeper towards the end. That hurt us a little bit but those guys got some experience and they’ll be ready the next time it comes around.”

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