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ACADEMY LEAGUE BASKETBALL: Whitney boys put a scare in league frontrunner, fade in second half

By Loren Kopff

If anything, the Whitney boys basketball team put league-leading Crean Lutheran on upset alert in the first half of its Academy League tilt last Saturday. The host Wildcats led throughout most of the first quarter and were down by no more than four points in the second quarter.

But Whitney struggled in the second half, hitting on only six field goals during that time and eventually lost to the Saints 60-44. Crean Lutheran entered the game as the ninth-ranked team in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division IV-A poll as selected by its advisory committee.

“After our first opening week, we had two lousy games against Oxford Academy and St. Margaret’s and since then, all I’ve been preaching is don’t worry about the score,” said Whitney head coach Ruben Guerrero. “Just play hard and be consistent at playing hard from beginning to the very end. And we’re on the track for that, but it seems the third quarter is lousy for us right now.”

The Wildcats (5-11 overall, 0-4 in league) had lost to Oxford Academy by 11 points before losing their next two league games by an average of 24.5 points. But against Crean Lutheran, which has just one loss on the season, the hosts led by four points twice within the first 77 seconds and again with 2:20 left in the first quarter on a bucket from freshman guard Heaven Flores.

The Saints took their first lead of the game as time was winding down in the stanza when Brett Kittelsen scored the last of his nine points through the first eight minutes. Although both teams combined to score 17 points in the second quarter, sophomore guard Ben Barnett tied the game at 24-24 with 46.1 seconds remaining. Seven seconds later, Tim Ghita gave Crean Lutheran a lead it would not relinquish the rest of the way.

In fact, the Saints began the second half with five straight points and after Flores connected on a free throw, the visitors from Irvine went on a 6-0 run to lead by 12 at 37-25.

“I told them when we came out from halftime, I don’t care what the score is right now,” Guerrero said. “To me it’s 0-0 and [they] better start off the way we did in the first quarter. The energy was flat from the beginning and I called a quick timeout to try to get them going. It took them a little long to get going and eventually they picked it up. But it was too late.”

Senior forward David Lu led Whitney with a career-high 10 points while senior guard Antony Thomas added eight points and grabbed nine rebounds. Lu became the 10th different player to reach double figures in scoring in a game this season as well as the 10th different player to lead his team in scoring in a game.

The Wildcats visited Brethren Christian this past Wednesday and will travel to Calvary Chapel Downey tonight to wrap up the first round of league action. Whitney will host Oxford Academy on Tuesday. Guerrero said the way his team played in the first half should send some message to the league as to not sleep on Whitney.

“Hopefully it says something to them,” Guerrero said. “Hopefully it lets them know that if they’re going to play us, it’s going to be work. If they’re going to beat us, it’s not going to be easy.”

Prior to the game, the Lady Wildcats were also in a close game with the Saints throughout the first half. But Whitney managed only five points in the second half and succumbed to Crean Lutheran 33-16, giving the Saints their first ever victory over Whitney. The 16 points are the second fewest Whitney (6-8, 2-2) has scored this season but the team has held its first four league opponents to less than 40 points.

Whitney never led in the game but kept the game close early on as the Saints led by no more than three points until Jordan Bishop scored on an offensive rebound with 1:09 left in the half. That was followed by a steal and basket from Annalynn Benson.

The Lady Wildcats, which had won 42 straight league games before falling to Sage Hill last Thursday, scored one point in the third quarter and that didn’t come until the 2:13 mark. At that time, Crean Lutheran was leading 20-12.

Whitney, which turned the ball over 27 times leading to 17 steals from Crean Lutheran, was led by senior Shiraya Thompson’s six points. It marked the first time since Dec. 17 that sophomore Nicole Lee, the team’s leading scorer this season, did not lead her team in that department. Lee did grab five rebounds and have three steals while senior Tushara Govind had five thefts.