SANTA ANA — Traveling to Godinez High Friday, the Laguna Beach boys' basketball team knew it would be in for a deliberate, slow-paced night.
Coach Bret Fleming also suspected the Orange Coast League game between his Breakers and the Grizzlies wouldn't be an offensive showcase, nor one that would include any scoring runs. Fleming was almost completely correct in his predictions.
The game did feature one run, and it was immediate and turned in by Laguna, which used a first-quarter burst to establish the lead, then fended off the Grizzlies the remainder of the way, to forge a 44-29 victory.
The win was important in the fact that it distanced the Breakers, ranked ninth in CIF Southern Section Division 4AA, from the rest of their OCL brethren. They hold no less than a one-game lead over their competitors in the league standings with one game left in the first round of league play.
Godinez had a chance with a win Friday to climb into a first-place tie with the Breakers.
Fleming knew the importance of the game, and by winning, Laguna improved to 4-0 in league and 15-5 overall.
Godinez fell to 2-2 and 15-6.
"We knew it would be a tough one," he said. "They are an extremely patient team and they slow the tempo down a bit. For the most part, they did that.
"Offensively, I thought we missed an awful lot of shots and had one of our worst shooting nights of the season. But, we did get off to a good start and our back door play on offense was there tonight."
That "good start" Fleming referred to came during the final 5:56 of the first quarter when the Breakers ripped off the final 13 points of the quarter, to open up a 14-3 lead. The run started with a pair of textbook back-to-back back door feeds by senior guards Matt Jones and Noah Blanton, which led to easy layins by senior guards Alec Wulff and Bryan Ludloff. The run ended when senior forward Josh Adams followed his own miss for the 14-3 lead.
The six-foot Jones didn't score during the game, but he hit the offensive glass hard and dished out assists throughout.
"I thought Matt had a really good game on the offensive boards," Fleming said of Jones. "He rebounded really well."
One player the Breakers knew they had to contend with was Godinez's Brandon Smith. The junior wing/forward came in averaging 16 points per game, and ended up surpassing that average by scoring 17. Scoreless in the first quarter, the Grizzlies turned to Smith at the outset of the second quarter and he responded by hitting a baseline jumper followed by a three-point shot, to bring the Grizzlies to within 14-8 a little more than a minute into the quarter.
Smith also closed out the first half scoring when he took an inbounds pass near the Laguna basket with five seconds remaining, drove the length of the court and sent up a floater from the lane that found nothing but net to beat the buzzer.
His shot brought the Grizzlies to within 19-17 at the half.
"He's a good kid and he's talented, and we knew that coming in," Fleming said of Smith who scored 10 points in the quarter.
Godinez tied the score twice in the opening two minutes of the second half, the last time coming on a turn around jumper by sophomore wing Nikolas Escobedo. The tie didn't last long as seconds later, Blanton completed a three-point play to give Laguna the lead for good, 24-21, with 6:14 to go in the third quarter.
Blanton also hit from three-point range five minutes later, to stretch the Laguna lead to 31-24. A pull-up jumper by Smith, his only basket of the quarter, with 31 seconds left narrowed the Breakers' lead to 31-24 after three quarters.
Jones came up with two big plays to start the fourth quarter. First, he fed Adams for a layup, then forced a turnover by Smith near the Godinez basket. On Laguna's ensuing trip down court, Wulff, who came in averaging 17 points per game but was held in check for much of the night by the Grizzlies, hit his first three-point shot of the game. It extended Laguna's lead to 36-24 with 6:09 remaining.
The Breakers would lead by no fewer than nine points the remainder of the way. With 3:19 to play, Jones found a wide open Blanton in the lane and Blanton flew to the basket for a dunk to make it 39-28 with 3:19 left.
Adams scored 16 points and Blanton had 15 to lead Laguna. Wulff finished with eight points and Ludloff added five points.
"This was a huge win," Fleming said. "We've won this thing (league) a couple of times and we have a target on our back. Teams get up to play us. I've watched Godinez play a few times this year, and this is the best I've seen them play."
Laguna next will face the challenge of a Costa Mesa team that has won three straight and is 3-1 in league, good for second place. The Breakers host the Mustangs, who defeated Calvary Chapel, 63-36, Friday, at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Dugger Gym.
"It's another big game for us," Fleming said.
Remaining league schedule
(all games 7 p.m.)
Wednesday: Costa Mesa
Jan. 31: at Estancia
Feb. 5: Saddleback
Feb. 7: Godinez
Feb. 11: at Calvary Chapel
Feb. 13: at Costa Mesa