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BOYS BASKETBALL: Cerritos snaps losing skid to crosstown rivals in rare low-scoring affair

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


Six nights following their third place meeting in the annual Cerritos/Gahr Varsity Tip-Off Tournament, the two city rivals met in their annual tilt, this time at Cerritos High. The rivalry, not including tournament games, has been heavily dominated by Gahr High as of late, but this time, the hosts found a way to win.

Cerritos outscored the Gladiators by six in the fourth quarter and survived a rare defensive tussle, winning 56-52 last Friday night to snap an eight-game losing streak. In addition, it’s the first time in over 10 seasons that the final score has been in the 50s.

Cerritos co-head coach Jonathan Watanabe saw his team score the first 14 points of the contest and his team own a 17-3 advantage following the first quarter. Long scoring streaks by either team in this rivalry is nothing new, but not this early and not when one team shoots one of 11 from the field in the first quarter.

“I’m not surprised,” Watanabe said of the fast start. “We were ready. I just wished we were able to sustain that for a longer period of time. But we were locked in. The one thing we need to do on a consistent basis is lock in defensively.

“In the second half, we got loose,” he continued. “We gave up I don’t know how many offensive rebounds. But that was the difference. There were at least four offensive rebounds given up in that the third quarter that led to eight points. We have to do a better job at that.”

“We beat them last week in the third place game of the Gahr-Cerritos Classic, so we knew they were going to come out and be ready,” said Gahr head coach Ricky Roper.” I just think we’re two evenly-matched teams, and we won a close one and they won a close one.”

But as fast as Cerritos gained that 14-point lead, the largest of the game, the Gladiators quickly made it a contest. Senior Jarrel King scored all but two of his teams’ points in the second quarter and following a 10-0 run, Cerritos was only up 17-13 with 3:50 left in the first half. The Dons, however, extended their lead to a dozen points with just under a minute to play in the half on a three-pointer from senior Dorian Harris. Cerritos led 30-22 at the half, very low-scoring by both teams’ standards, but easily anyone’s game to take over the final 16 minutes. By halftime, Cerritos had connected on 10 of 24 shots from the field while Gahr improved a little, hitting on nine of 31 attempts.

“They hit a lot of shots and we missed a lot of shots,” Roper said. “They probably came out wanting to avenge last week’s loss. We got back on our heels a little bit.”

The Gladiators stayed within single digits the entire second half and took its first lead of the game with 2:21 remaining in the third stanza on a King basket. After getting an offensive rebound, Gahr senior Bill Williams was fouled and connected on both free throws 18 seconds later as the Gladiators led 38-35, their largest lead of the game.

That’s when Cerritos made another push to take control of the game and this time, it held. Cerritos went on an 11-2 run over the next 4:18, getting points from six different players. Only senior Destin Flucas scored twice in that rally, including a three-pointer to put his team up 46-40.

“We gave away too many points, and we turned the ball over too much, too,” Watanabe said. “So, that doesn’t help. But these games really show your character. You’ve got to find ways to win. It doesn’t really matter if you played well or if you played bad in some games. It’s whether you got the ‘W’ or the ‘L’, and tonight we were fortunate to get the ‘W’.”

“We fought hard and got some turnovers off the press,” Roper said. “Foul trouble was kind of a rough break; we had two guys foul out. We had a guy cut his head, [senior] Seth Shaw, [and] we couldn’t get him back in the game. We had a few bad breaks.”

With 2:53 remaining in the game, sophomore Jaren Johnson nailed a three-pointer off a pass from King to make it a one-possession game. Gahr was still down by a point following another Johnson basket with 30.6 seconds remaining. But senior Vincent Biscoe sank the second of two free throw attempts with 25.1 seconds left. Then after Gahr called a pair of timeouts, King missed a long three-pointer with under 10 seconds left and senior Jyvontte Moore sealed the victory with two free throws.

“They’re making it tough,” Watanabe said. “They’re working and we’re trying on our end, too. Saturday was the first time we lost a game when we held a team to under 60 [points] this year so far.”

Flucas led the Dons with 19 points and 12 rebounds while Moore added 16 points, 10 rebounds and two steals. Biscoe pitched in with 13 points as all five starters scored 54 of the 56 points.

“I also like the play of [freshman] Alex Archer coming off the bench to kind of calm things down,” Watanabe said. “I don’t know if it shows up in the stats, but he did a good job of calming it down and defending. And, also [senior] Brandon de Groot, [who] didn’t play a lot of minutes. But when he was in there, he made an impact on both ends of the floor.”

For a change, Cerritos seemed to have the advantage as far as experience goes, with all five starters being returning seniors and only four first-year varsity players on a team of 17. In contrast, Gahr had 10 players suit up and only three of them were returning players.

“I don’t think it’s a difference,” Watanabe said. “Gahr is Gahr, Cerritos is Cerritos, regardless of what happens. We just work and develop our guys and they seem to have different guys coming in.”

“I just think this particular year, we’re just very evenly-matched teams,” Roper said. “We’re just both good teams; good, solid teams. If we played in a seven-game series, it would probably go seven games.”

Gahr was led by King, who posted a game-high 21 points and had five rebounds. Johnson added 12 points while junior Justin Stephens led the Gladiators with eight boards. Gahr, which fell to 4-5, will visit La Salle High tonight before participating in the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic where they will face Cienega High out of Vail, AZ on Wednesday.

“Jarrel got us back in the game,” Roper said. “He hit some shots, made some drives. So that was fun to see.”

Cerritos, which lost to Gahr 56-55 the previous week, improved to 6-3 and visited La Mirada High this past Wednesday in its Suburban League opener. The Dons will face Rancho Bernardo High on Wednesday in the first round of the Mt. Carmel Tournament.

“We still have things to fix, but we’re all trying to improve and get better,” Watanabe said. “Defensively, offensively, from coaching standpoint, these games are great.”