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CIF-SS D-3AA BOYS BASKETBALL SEMIFINALS: Valley Christian unable to match physicality of second-ranked Aquinas, falls short of finals berth


June 9, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter


SAN BERNARDINO-Valley Christian High boys basketball head coach Josh Zumkehr had hoped to his team could stay close to Aquinas High in one of two CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA semifinal games. All five of Aquinas’ starters have pretty much played the entire 32 minutes in most of its games with three starters averaging over 13 points a game.

Unfortunately, the physicality of the Falcons was too much for the Defenders to overcome as V.C. never led in the game and were done in by a 12-2 run to end the first half as Aquinas rolled to an 83-65 victory last Friday night. The Defenders, ranked third in the division, dropped to 13-7 but is expected to get a berth in the CIF Southern California Regionals next week. Those brackets will be released on Sunday with the first round games beginning on Tuesday.

Zumkehr knew his team was in trouble in the first 88 seconds of the game when the Defenders turned the ball over three times and didn’t attempt a shot while the Falcons were off and running, connecting on four of their first five shots and eventually seven of 11 in the quarter.

“You saw that right away on an 8-0 run to start the game; I think four of them on second chance points,” he said. “I just felt like any time a shot went up, we were going to have to work extra hard to make sure they didn’t get a second chance. They just started hitting those first shots, so there were no chances for rebounds, especially in the second half.”

It wasn’t until nearly two minutes into the game when senior Denzel Williams scored the first points for the Defenders and by the end of the opening stanza, Aquinas had built a 10-point lead. V.C. then began the second quarter with junior Nathan Medina and Williams hitting back to back three-pointers within the first minute. Just past the midway point of the second quarter, a steal and dunk from senior Luca Caldarella brought V.C. to within a point at 23-22. That would be the closest the Olympic League’s third place team would get as the Falcons closed out the half on that long run, then expanded their lead to 21 points two minutes into the second half.

“The physicality; we can see it on film,” Zumkehr said. “And they play really well together, and that’s always tough. They know their strengths; they know their weaknesses and they don’t go away from that.”

The halftime score was 38-24 and both teams would nearly equal that score in the third quarter alone as they were nearly trading basket for basket. In fact, Aquinas did something it had not done in the first half-shoot from long range. The Falcons had to do that because Medina, senior Brett Stahl and freshman Michael Wright all connected on three-pointers in the third quarter while the Falcons were true on all five of their trifectas in the stanza.

“It’s a sign of a good team,” Zumkehr said. “You adjust to what they’re doing, attacking the basket. They make the adjustment; they make the read and now they start hitting their shots. We saw that on film, and you just pick your poison. When you’re playing this time of the year, you’re not playing against any…it’s going to be hard to find any weakness. Every team is coming in off four wins in a row, at least.”

Not one bench player for Aquinas, which has 10 players, scored and it wasn’t until under the two-minute mark that the five bench players saw action. Shelden Grant and Nick Hopkins led the Falcons with 22 points each, which was one point and two and a half points above their average, respectively. Vugar Kuliev (18 points) was five points above his average and Keishmer Charles added 15 points, which was nearly seven points above his average.

“In small schools, you see that more than you would in maybe a larger public school,” Zumkehr said. “I think the advantage of a small school is you have well-defined roles with your players. They know exactly what they’re going to do. Part of our game plan was getting them into foul trouble and we obviously couldn’t.”

Medina paced the Defenders with 24 points while Williams added a dozen points off the bench and also grabbed four rebounds while adding two assists and two steals. Medina has scored at least 14 points in every game this season and has scored at least 20 points in five straight games and in 15 of the past 18 contests.

“We have another chance to play, plus it’s going to be in the middle of June,” Zumkehr said. “It is something weird. We’ll take some time off; we’ll take a few days off. I think it’s good for the guys to get some rest, and then we’ll get back at it and practice for the So Cal Regionals.”