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ACADEMY LEAGUE BASKETBALL: Whitney hoopsters stumble in second half against arch rival on homecoming night

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


Whitney High School’s 40th Homecoming theme last Friday night was ‘A Cosmic Collision’ and when the boys and girls basketball teams played Oxford Academy, it seemed to be a collision of sorts between these Academy League arch rivals. Inside a standing room only gymnasium which included former Associated Student Body presidents and homecoming queens, the Lady Wildcats and Patriots girls’ squads each went through disastrous shooting slumps.

While Whitney dominated the second quarter, it was Oxford Academy which came through in the fourth quarter and squeaked out a 39-36 victory. A pair of free throws from Austyn Masuno with 9.4 seconds left in the game sealed the win as junior Nicole Lee’s desperation shot at the end fell short.

Whitney head coach Jeff Day had seen his defense hold the Patriots without a field goal for 15:26 from late in the first quarter to late in the third quarter. The visitors from Cypress had a 15-6 lead with 2:13 left in the first quarter and didn’t connect from the field until 2:47 remained in the third quarter. By then, the Lady Wildcats were up 28-22. But the hosts went three for 27 from the field in the second half. Day would have his theories on why both teams went through long scoring slumps.

“The homecoming, the crowd, having six freshmen in the game,” Day said. “That’s probably the first game in high school where there’s been that kind of atmosphere. That was kind of like playoff atmosphere and I think everyone knows it. They’re a good team. Going into the season, everyone [knew] that was the best team in the league.”

Whitney (6-6 overall, 2-1 in league) scored the final six points of the first quarter and took its first lead of the game 43 seconds into the second quarter on a three-pointer from Lee. Masuno scored the lone points for her team in the stanza on a pair of free throws with 6:22 left in the half. But Lee converted on a three-point play and hit a three-pointer to close out the first half scoring with freshman Christine Hamakawa getting the assists on both of those baskets.

On the first possession of the second half, freshman Justine Wu drained a perimeter shot to increase Whitney’s lead to 28-18, the largest of the game. She would later add another downtown shot with 1:11 left in the stanza as the Lady Wildcats continued to lead at 31-22. After that, Whitney went one of 14 from the field the remainder of the game.

“I knew we could play with them,” Day said. “We had a good plan. I thought it worked; we stayed with it early on. We’re streaky shooters. But our depth is what hurt us tonight.”

With sophomore Caitlin Cheung still sidelined with an injury, the Lady Wildcats tried to get the most from the five starters. Lee led Whitney with 15 points and three steals while Wu added nine points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Freshman Kiana Sanchez chipped in with seven points and eight boards.

“We’re playing seven girls,” Day said. “Of those seven girls, five of them I’m asking to play 28, 29, 32 minutes. I don’t think Christine came out of the game. Hamakawa probably played all 32 minutes, Nicole probably played 30-plus, [senior] Annika [Brandes] is coming off an injury too, and she didn’t play in the last game.”

Before last season, Whitney had gone undefeated in the league for four straight seasons. Then Crean Lutheran High claimed the league title last season. Now, Oxford Academy figures to be the newest contenders after winning a combined eight league games over the past five seasons. The win over Whitney puts the Patriots at 11-3 overall and 2-0 in the circuit. All indications point to Whitney and Oxford Academy as league title favorites in the near future with both teams fielding a combined seven freshmen, six juniors and five sophomores this season. And of the 23 girls in the Whitney program this season, 17 are new.

“Until I see St. Margaret’s and Sage Hill, we’ll see, because Sage Hill has two or three really good sophomores” Day said. “So the league is young and Sage played [Oxford Academy] the other day and I think it was [63-56]. This league has kind of been dull and boring as far as the excitement point of view for a long time. We haven’t had a playoff-type of game in league since I’ve been here.”

Following the game and the homecoming ceremonies, the boys had a meltdown in the third quarter after an eight-point halftime lead and came up short in a 61-57 decision. Oxford Academy outscored the Wildcats 26-8 in the third quarter as the hosts went four of 14 from the field during that time.

It was the third straight game in which Whitney struggled in the third quarter. Against Los Amigos High on Jan. 2, Whitney scored five points in the third quarter but still won 39-29. In the league opener against Calvary Chapel Downey High on Jan. 5, the ‘Cats scored just two points in the third quarter and saw a 23-16 halftime lead turn into a 42-35 loss.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the third quarter,” said Whitney head coach Ruben Guerrero. “We’ve always had that one quarter letdown. The last two games it’s been the third quarter. But a lot played into that tonight with the nervousness [of homecoming] and the big crowd and all that kind of stuff, especially with such a young team.”

Whitney (5-6, 0-3) rallied from an early 9-3 hole to tie the game on three-pointers from sophomore Heaven Flores. It was his third downtown shot of the opening stanza but Whitney could not gain a lead until senior Michael Hamakawa scored on one of his two steals in the game to put Whitney in front 21-20 with 1:32 left in the half. That would be the beginning of an 11-0 run to end the half as the ‘Cats led 28-20. But Guerrero wasn’t quite satisfied.

“When we went into the locker room, they were screaming and hollering and all of that,” Guerrero said. “And I went in there and yelled at them and told them to settle down. The one thing with a young team a lot of times is the emotions get the best of them. I told them we still had to focus on defense.”

Oxford Academy began the third quarter on a tear and went on a 10-2 run to tie the game following a basket from Jairaj Singh, who would be a thorn in Whitney’s side the entire game. Singh would score 10 points in the stanza and finished the contest with 24 points, half of them coming from three-pointers.

Meanwhile, Whitney was still holding onto a 36-21 lead with 2:23 left in the third quarter before the roof caved in. The Patriots scored the next 16 points before the ‘Cats tried to make a furious rally in the fourth quarter. They scored six consecutive points to make it a 48-42 contest less than two minutes into the final quarter.

Then Whitney went on another 6-0 run to trail 53-48 with three and a half minutes remaining. Flores scored a basket with 26.3 seconds left to cut Whitney’s deficit to two at 59-57. But Ahmed Osmen iced the game with a free throw with 3.4 seconds remaining following a Whitney turnover. Flores led Whitney with 17 points and four steals while senior K.J. Hardrict added 14 points and 11 rebounds.

“We’re really excited for Heaven,” Guerrero said. “I think the one thing we were trying to work on over the summer with him is the mental aspect of the game. And I think he’s starting to figure it out. He used to let the emotions get the best of him. But he’s actually doing very well.”

Both Whitney basketball teams visited St. Margaret’s High this past Tuesday with the girls coming away with a 43-27 win while the boys fell 50-39. Whitney then hosted Brethren Christian on Jan. 14. and will travel to Sage Hill High on Saturday and Crean Lutheran on Tuesday. In addition, the girls will host St. Lucy’s High on Monday.

“We just have to look forward to the next game and not dwell on the last two games,” Guerrero said. “The most we can do is keep fighting for whatever we need to fight for and try to keep our season alive. This stings because these past two games are the games we had to win. We kind of dug a hole for ourselves.”