_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________         EBOOK


DOUGLAS USELTON MEMORIAL TOURNAMENT: Valley Christian nipped at the buzzer, sees winning streak snapped


By Loren Kopff


CYPRESS-The Valley Christian boys basketball team wrapped up the Douglas Uselton Memorial Tournament, hosted by Oxford Academy, with a chance to keep its winning streak alive at 11 games to begin the season. And for a brief second, it looked as if sophomore small guard Johnny Johnson would keep the Crusaders undefeated.

But his attempted three-point shot from the right wing at the buzzer fell short and V.C. lost to Savanna 56-54 last Saturday night in the championship game. Johnson had missed two free throws with 5.7 seconds left, but half a second later, Savanna’s Kevin Ventura did the same, giving the Crusaders the chance of the win, or at least send the game into overtime.

The game marked the fifth game in as many nights for the Crusaders, who had defeated three Orange County schools by a combined 23 points, plus Bishop Amat, the fifth ranked team in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III-A coaches poll, by 21 points. But V.C. head coach Bryan Branderhorst is not using that as an excuse for the loss.

“I’m not going to blame it on that,” Branderhorst said. “I don’t think fatigue was an issue tonight. I think poise was an issue and we were certainly lacking there.”

Indeed, V.C. was sloppy in the first quarter, turning the ball over eight times, but held the lead until the Rebels scored the final five points of the stanza in the final 76 seconds to take a 13-10 lead. The Crusaders, ranked seventh in Division IV-A, responded by going on an 8-0 run and in fact, limited Savanna to just two points in the second quarter. Johnson and junior small guard Jordan Mitchell combined to score nine of the 11 points in the quarter and were effective on the glass, each grabbing four rebounds in that eight-minute session.

V.C. extended its lead to 10 points just 62 seconds into the third quarter on consecutive baskets from junior power forward Vaj Rice and Johnson, who had assisted on Rice’s bucket. But the Rebels would slowly chip away at the lead and regained the lead with 3:19 remaining in the quarter on an Adam Gomez basket. After Rice scored on back to back attempts, Gomez nailed a three-pointer and for the next five and a half minutes extending into the fourth quarter, both squads would trade leads.

With 3:49 left to play, Michael Enis converted a three-point play that put the Rebels in front. Then 29 seconds later, Mark Butler did the same to give Savanna the lead for good at 49-46. It was Butler, Enis and Kyle Davis that paced the Rebels, combining for all but 15 points in the game and connecting on three third quarter long range shots.

“[Enis and Davis] were high on our list as was [Mark Butler] in terms of shooting the three,” Branderhorst said. “[Butler] had a nice night tonight. Our biggest concern was just taking care of the basketball because they like to create turnovers with their defense and get out in transition.”

V.C. would cut its deficit to one point four different times over the final 2:49 but had several chances to take the lead with less than a minute to play.

With 31.3 seconds remaining, V.C. turned the ball over. Then Rice was called for an offensive foul with 18.8 seconds left and Davis sank both free throws. Finally, with 5.7 seconds left, Johnson missed his first free throw and a lane violation was called on his second attempt, in which he purposely tried to bounce the ball off the glass in hopes of a V.C. player getting the rebound.

Rice led all scorers with 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds while Johnson added 13 points and eight boards as well.

“We started off real shaky,” Branderhorst said. “The name of the game all night was we turned the ball over and made silly mistakes. We had stretches where that was worse than others but certainly that was a major Achilles Heel for us tonight. We didn’t take care of the ball; we weren’t effective against their pressure.”

The Crusaders have typically had slow Decembers, failing to reach 10 wins by the time Olympic League play starts over the past five seasons. In fact, V.C. has not won more than 14 games in any season since going 27-4 during the 2007-2008 campaign en route to a Division IV-A championship. That season, the team started off 5-0.

“Fantastic start to the season,” Branderhorst said. “Obviously we’re kind of discouraged right now. But 10-1 is a good place to be. We’ve gotten better overall through the course of the week. It’s tough because you don’t have a chance to practice and work on certain things you want to work on. You have to try to get better on the court.”

The Crusaders will begin action in the Monrovia Tournament against La Canada today with the final day coming on Tuesday.