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BOYS BASKETBALL – Artesia holds off Long Beach Wilson to remain hot, heads to San Diego for top tournament

 

December 22, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

 

It’s been a while since the Artesia High boys basketball program has begun a season like the one happening in 2021-2022. Sure, the Pioneers have had seasons of 15 wins, 16 wins, 17 wins and 18 wins since the 2013-2014 campaign, but those have also ended with double digit losses.

Following a tough 56-50 win over Long Beach Wilson High last Friday in which the Pioneers nearly squandered a 13-point fourth quarter lead, Artesia, the top-ranked team in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA poll, improved to 11-2. Both losses have come in the championship game in tournaments-the first to Gahr High by one point in the El Monte Tournament and one week later, a 12-point setback to Corona Del Mar High in the finals of the Artesia Tournament.

“Honestly, at this point, I had no idea where we were going to go,” said Artesia head coach Jeff Myles. “The two losses we had were in championship games, but before the season, I had no idea we would be 11-2. We’re thankful; the guys are working hard and we’re trying to get better every day.”

The Pioneers and Bruins exchanged leads four times within the first 3:52 of the game with neither team led by more than two points. The back and forth flow continued into the second quarter until sophomore Aaron Banks’ trifecta gave Artesia the lead for good at 19-16 with 4:55 left in the half. That was part of a 9-0 run over 2:25 and put the hosts in front by seven points, the largest margin in the half. Banks came off the bench to score five points, grab four rebounds, assist on one basket, and have a steal in the second quarter alone.

“Today was a tough day; it was an early day out of school,” Myles said. “It was a little too close for comfort. But I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day of the week.

“We just picked up the intensity a little bit,” he later said. “We went to a little bit of a press to kind of get some energy in the building. It was just a cold night and again, they got out of school early. We pressed a little bit to kind of speed up the game a little bit and that’s what got the guys going.”

Artesia began to pull away from the Bruins midway through the third quarter with sophomore Zion Staples doing most of the damage. Feeding off his nine rebounds, eight points and a block in the first half, Staples could not be stopped in the third quarter. He converted a three-point play nearly three minutes into the stanza to make it 32-27. Then with 2:51 left in the quarter, he had an offensive putback to make it 39-30 and followed that up with consecutive buckets in a span of 32 seconds as the Pioneers ended the quarter on a 9-2 run.

Staples finished the game with 19 points, 18 rebounds, half coming on the offensive end, one assist and one steal. He has led the Pioneers in scoring five times and has reached double figures 10 times.

“That’s Zion; he plays hard,” Myles said. “He’s still young and he’s still learning how to play. He missed a couple of bunnies around the rim, but we’re getting there. The good thing about Zion is he’s unselfish. Even if he doesn’t get the ball [to score], he finds other ways to get the ball. He goes crashing to get a rebound or try to get a steal or try to get a block. He’s always engaged and he’s always competing.”

The Pioneers were up 45-32 with 6:53 left to play, before the Moore League opponent chipped away at its deficit to trail by four points with 34.5 seconds remaining on the only basket in the contest for Nathaniel Parris. After senior Miles Jennings drained a pair of free throws four and a half seconds later, a three-pointer from Ryan Alavi made it 53-50 with 19.8 ticks left. But seniors Jordan Kirkwood and Yutong Zhang put the game away with free throws.

Junior Steve Anderson scored 10 points and had a pair of steals while Banks and Jennings each added eight points and combined for 11 rebounds.

“This year’s team, we had a full season of practice with the fall league and the summer league,” Myles said of the turnaround. “I think, myself, I became a better coach this [past] summer just coaching some other coaches. It’s kind of helped me out to be a better coach and this year we’re competing and getting after it defensively. It really starts in practice.”

The Pioneers will face Menlo High at Carlsbad High on Monday in the first round of The Holiday Classic in San Diego County. Artesia, one of 68 teams from across the nation participating in the tournament, is in the Senator Division and will face either Carlsbad High or Steele Canyon High on Tuesday. Following the four-day event, the black and red will begin 605 League play on Jan. 4 against John Glenn High.

“It’s going to be fun but it’s also going to be scary because you never know when you take young high schoolers on the road out of town,” Myles said. “You just have to make sure they’re all responsible adults. Those are going to be some great teams in there. It’s a great tournament. It gives us a chance to play teams outside our area.”