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605 LEAGUE BOYS BASKETBALL – Artesia rebounds from sluggish start to blow away Whitney in second half

January 19, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter


COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on high school athletics this winter season with games being cancelled or postponed every day. It’s gotten to the point where some basketball teams have played or are scheduled to play two games on the same day while some teams haven’t played since last month.

Such was the case when Artesia High visited Whitney High this past Monday to play a 605 League game that was cancelled from last Friday. Artesia had faced Capistrano Valley High earlier in the morning in a MLK Tournament contest played at St. John Bosco High while the Wildcats have been absent from game action since Dec. 21 when they hosted Fairmont Prep.

Early on, it was Artesia feeling the effects of a second game in a span of five hours with Whitney hanging around with the top-ranked team in the CIF-Southern Section’s Division 4AA. Whitney had rallied from seven points down to take its first lead late in the opening quarter before the teams traded leads on the next five baskets. But the Pioneers showed why they are the favorites to win the league as they outscored the Wildcats 33-14 in the second half and cruised to a 57-35 victory.

“Guys were actually sleeping in the stands before the game and I think we were a little sluggish,” said Artesia head coach Jeff Myles. “That’s a tough Whitney team; [they have] a new coach and they play very well, very hard and a lot better than last year. They kind of ran some good stuff; ran a little triangle, ran a little box and kind of switched it up in between possessions. So, that’s a good team and we have to be ready for them next time.”

“We thought it was going to be worse,” said Whitney first-year head coach Joseph Webber. “So, the second half is what we thought the first half might look like. But we only had one day of practice before this game after that layoff. To tell you the truth, I’m very proud of this team since the first day I got here. The growth has been incredible and we’re just trying to change the culture and be better every single time we go out, and that’s what is happening.

Senior Miles Jennings gave the Pioneers the lead for good with 5:29 left in the first half and over a minute and a half later, Myles called a timeout after neither team had scored. Shortly after the timeout, sophomore Zion Staples scored off an offensive rebound to increase the lead to 18-15. Whitney (3-12 overall) would get to within a point two more times in the half, but in the second half, it was pure Artesia domination, which went on a 10-2 run, then scored the first 10 points of the fourth quarter to lead 50-27 with 5:04 remaining in the game. At one point, the Pioneers (15-5 overall, 3-0 in league after the win) went on a 22-4 run that lasted 9:58 in the second half.

“We just challenged them to compete on the defensive end because we don’t think in the first half we competed,” Myles said of his halftime lecture. “Even though we were missing shots in the first half, which happens in basketball, I thought in the first half we still didn’t compete. We told them in the second half to pick it up and have some pride and effort. We challenged them and they responded to the challenge.”

“Our seniors…I asked them at the beginning of the season to lead us through all this, and that’s exactly what they did,” Webber said. “They picked the elements up, they helped them apply the pressure on defense and keep us in games. This team, with no big man, is help, help, help and scramble. It was a pretty incredible feat.”

Junior Steve Anderson paced the Pioneers with 13 points and seven rebounds while Staples had 14 rebounds and a dozen points. Jennings and sophomore Aaron Banks each had nine points and seven rebounds and senior Jordan Kirkwood came off the bench to pitch in with seven rebounds and six points.

Artesia was scheduled to visit Pioneer High this past Wednesday, defeated the Titans 69-49 and will travel to John Glenn High tonight. With a win tonight, the Pioneers will capture their first league title since the 2006-2007 season. Because of the uncertainties with Covid this season the league decided to make the first round count towards the league standings and the second round only towards the overall record in the event a team doesn’t face another one twice.

After that, Artesia is scheduled to make up its Jan. 11 game with Oxford Academy on Saturday before hosting Cerritos High on Wednesday.

“The goal coming into the year for myself is always to first of all try to win league, second off is to try to finish above .500 and third off is try to go as far as I can [in the playoffs],” Myles said. “So, we still have our goals in front of us to win league, even though I know this year is a Covid year and we only count the first five games. We still want to win all 10 games, so no matter who we are playing, if it’s league or non-league, we always want to win.”

Wong led the Wildcats with 18 points and six rebounds, the sixth time in the last seven games he has led his team in scoring and the eighth time in 15 games. Sophomore Sakeef Sekender added five points and five rebounds while three players all scored four points. With nine league games still left on the docket, Whitney was scheduled to face Oxford Academy this past Wednesday and is slated to go to Pioneer tonight, host Cerritos on Sunday to make up a Jan. 11 game and go to John Glenn on Wednesday.

“Sometimes because of the past, he takes too much on himself,” Webber said of Wong. “I appreciate him because he doesn’t waver from that responsibility. He just tries to work harder and lead by example. He is an amazing young man and I’m so happy to have him. But a that the same time, what he did; his major thing that he did this year, is he raised the level of the other players, which didn’t happen in those previous years. That’s why we have the team we have.”

“[Ethan Wong] is a good player; I think he’s been playing varsity his whole time here,” Myles said. “Against good players in basketball, you’re not going to stop them. So, all you want to do is make it hard on them and I think we made it tough on him. We wore him down because he missed a couple of open shots late in the game.”