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605 LEAGUE BASKETBALL – Artesia boys, Whitney girls end first week of league play with blowout victories

By Loren Kopff • January 11, 2023

In a way, the Artesia High boys and Whitney High girls basketball teams have taken similar paths to their success this season. Both are favorites to win the 605 League, both have been challenged in the first six weeks of the season and both are coming back from out of state tournaments in which they have had to adjust to Nevada and Idaho high school basketball rules, respectively.

After suffocating their respective opponents on the defensive end to begin league play on Jan. 4, the two were at it again this past Friday with the Artesia boys crushing Whitney 53-13 and the Whitney girls having no problem with the Pioneers, 67-19.

“I’m a defensive guy,” said Artesia head coach Jeff Myles. “When I played in high school, I held my roles on defense. I got [the] defensive player [award] on my team. So, I’m always a defensive guy. You can never control how you shoot the ball, but you can always control how hard you play defense. That’s what we preach every day.”

The 13 points yielded by Artesia was a season-low and comes on the heels of a 51-20 win over Cerritos High in the league opener. The Pioneers have allowed less than 40 points five times this season while the 53 points scored marked the second fewest this season. 

Artesia scored the first five points of the game before Whitney scored its lone basket of the first quarter, a two-pointer from sophomore Peter Poitras with 5:56 left in the stanza. It was the second shot taken in the first 2:04 and when the half had ended, the Wildcats had attempted 13 shots from the field.

Meanwhile, when the Pioneers had the ball, they shot effectively, hitting on their last four attempts of the first quarter and their first two of the second quarter, going on a 13-0 run to blow the game open just 1:45 into the second quarter. And while two players combined for the seven points Whitney scored in the half, the Pioneers were spreading the wealth around with seven players scoring at least three points.

Whitney’s four baskets of the game came at 5:56 of the first quarter, 6:07 of the second quarter, 5:12 of the third quarter and 7:31 of the fourth quarter. For most of the game, when the Wildcats had the ball, they held onto it until the shot clock was winding down, a strategy that backfired as the Pioneers took their frustrations on Whitney’s defense by shooting 12 of 34 from three-point territory.

“Our guys were very frustrated,” said Myles. “They wanted to get out of being disciplined and we told them to sit, wait and be patient because all they’re doing is limited their possessions.”

Being patient and waiting to get a rebound or waiting to get the ball back off a turnover was nothing new to Artesia. When the Pioneers went to the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas the week before Christmas, they were treated to near Summer League rules as they played four games of 16 minute halves with no shot clock and four :30 second timeouts. 

“The tournament in Vegas actually helped us,” said Myles. “They didn’t put out a shot clock, so without a shot clock, it helped us be patient on offense. It helped us be patient on defense; it helped us to guard on long possessions. Looking back on that, it actually helped us for a game like this where a team like Whitney holds the ball for long possessions. In Vegas, we bonded, had a good time and did some team activities. Now we trust each other more and we share the ball more.”

Junior Aaron Banks nearly outscored Whitney, finishing with 11 points while grabbing three rebounds and collecting two steals. Senior Caleb Brown-Stanton, a transfer from Gahr High, scored nine points in his second game since being eligible while junior Joshua Martinez, a transfer from Salesian High also playing in his second game, posted seven points and grabbed eight rebounds. Those three, along with senior Steven Anderson Jr. (four rebounds, three points) and junior Zion Staples (six rebounds, five points) are expected to be the starters the remainder of the season, making the Pioneers a likely favorite to win the league and a deadly opponent for anyone in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. The five bench players who scored combined to go six of 11 with all six coming from beyond the arc.

“Every player helps, but our big three are our big three,” said Myles. “I’ve had them since they were freshmen. Yeah, we have a couple of guys, but the guys you need to worry about are Aaron Banks, who was an all CIF player and Zion Staples, who is probably a next level player. The other guys kind of help fill in a role here and there. Nobody was feeling sorry for us when we lost our big guy. So, it is what it is.”

As for the Wildcats, who went 13-3 to begin the season, then had no problems with John Glenn High in a 31-point win on Jan. 4, senior Ethan Wong had eight points and three rebounds while senior Sai Samathan grabbed six rebounds.

“They’re a good team; they had a couple of quality wins on the schedule,” said Myles of Whitney. “I think they were down a couple of starters, but it’s always the next man up mentality and our guys just played. I knew they were going to go with the stalled offense; I watched them on film do that. So, I told our guys to just be patient. 

“They kind of limited their own possessions, so we had to make sure we had solid possessions,” he continued. “When we do have the ball, we have solid possessions and once you get down by a certain amount and you still run that offense, it’s kind of a detriment to your team. But [Whitney head coach Joseph Webber] is a good coach and he believes in the system, and he thought that would work.”

The Whitney girls, who shared the top spot in the league with Cerritos and Pioneer High last season, are also the favorites to win the next month. The Wildcats, who had lost four in a row, including the last three against some of the best Idaho has to offer in the Timberline Tournament, blasted Glenn 71-6 on Jan. 4, then routed Artesia 67-19 last Friday. 

Opening the league season against the bottom two of the league may or may not have been the best thing for Whitney, depending on who you ask. But like the Artesia boys, playing in Idaho, finishing in third place in the Glenn-Norwalk Tournament and losing twice to Sunny Hills in the first 13 games has prepared the team for the better teams of the league, plus what lies ahead when the playoffs begin.

“I just think it’s the scheduling,” said Whitney head coach Myron Jacobs. “Like I’ve said [before], I don’t get happy; we all stay humble and hungry. And when we really play against Pioneer and Cerritos, I think that’s when we’ll know where we’re at. But if you ask me, my team is definitely ready.”

Whitney scored the first eight points of the game, the last on a steal from freshman Maddy Macaraeg. After Artesia freshman Kaelah Daniels hit two of three free throws, the ‘Cats reeled off 13 straight points to run away before the quarter was over. Macaraeg, the future of the Whitney program who scored in double figures in her first nine games, plus both league games, had a dozen points in the first quarter alone.

Artesia began the second quarter with baskets from sophomore Ashlee Chung and junior Maya Reamer before Whitney went on a 21-0 run the remainder of the half. The Wildcats were 17 of 32 from the field in the half and junior Kylie Wang became the second player to score in double digits in the half. She had 13 points in the first 16 minutes and finished with 15 points. 

In fact, all four starters finished the game with at least 10 points and all five starters didn’t play in the fourth quarter, which was under running clock rules.

“I don’t think they posed any problems,” said Jacobs of Artesia. “It was us playing us out there. It was us working on just getting better. Again, the score doesn’t show anything, but me as a coach, I’m looking at the health side, the talking on defense and things like that. Artesia is a struggling team, and we respect them. But I have to keep my team hungry and still ready to go.”

Macaraeg led everyone with 18 points and had four rebounds while senior Layla Lacorte and sophomore Haylie Wang each had 10 points while senior Kayla Hamakawa pulled down five rebounds. Daniels and Reamer each had five points to pace the Pioneers, who entered the game at 2-14.

As for Whitney, which had hoped to duplicate, or exceed last season’s successful 18-5 campaign, the team improved to 9-10, but the record is a bit misleading. The team has been decimated with injuries and illness and is beginning to get healthy. The program’s first out of state preseason trip prepared them for what Jacobs hopes is a deeper run in the playoffs. And, of the 10 losses, three have been by five points or less and another three have been by 10 points or less.

“Honestly, Boise just showed us a different style of play,” said Jacobs. “It actually exposed us on what we need to get better at. We played the number one team, the number 15 team and you ask yourself, what can you do different? We played a tough schedule in the preseason and yeah, we have losses. But when we get to league, it’s a whole different team.”

The Artesia boys knocked off Pioneer 57-36 this past Tuesday while the girls fell to the Titans 73-21. Both Artesia squads will be at Oxford Academy on Friday and will visit Glenn on Wednesday while both Whitney teams, which swept Oxford Academy this past Tuesday with the boys winning 59-31 and the girls by a 64-23 score, will host Cerritos on Friday on Homecoming night before travelling to Pioneer on Wednesday. In addition, the Whitney girls will face Brea Olinda High on Saturday as part of the Matson Classic at Orange Lutheran High while Artesia will face Los Altos High on Monday.