LA CAÑADA —The St. Francis High basketball team is the epitome of a solid team.
The Golden Knights hustle on defense, make the extra pass on offense, dive for loose balls and have sound fundamentals.
That’s part of the reason St. Francis is the third-ranked team in the latest CIF Southern Section Division 3A poll.
That’s also part of the reason the Golden Knights defeated Arcadia, 69-50, in Tuesday’s pool-play game of the La Cañada Holiday Classic, as St. Francis (4-1) overwhelmed the Apaches with its defense and picked Arcadia apart on offense en route to the easy win.
“As good as we may look individually, if we try to play individually in the Mission League, that’s never going to work,” said St. Francis co-Coach Ray O’Brien, referring to league opponents Crespi, Chaminade, Loyola and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, each of whom are ranked in the top three in their respective divisions, with Chaminade taking the top billing in Division 3A.
“If we play as a team, we have a chance against the best teams in the Mission League. We have to be disciplined to reach the goals we’ve set for this year. We want to challenge for a CIF championship.”
Returning All-CIF selection Kyle Leufroy and eight other returners from last year’s squad that advanced to a program-best quarterfinal appearance in the playoffs have allowed the Golden Knights to set lofty goals.
Leufroy showed flashes of his playmaking skills in Tuesday’s win, as he finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.
“Those were a quiet 15 points,” O’Brien said.
Leufroy made plays for his teammates with his speed and passing skills, setting up the Golden Knights for open looks.
The Golden Knights were also unselfish with the ball, rarely trying to take a defender off the dribble in a one-on-one situation, but instead playing within the roles of their offense. The team-first approach allowed 11 of the 12 Golden Knights to score, with Noah Willerford (12 points), Markar Agakanian (nine), Michael Allen (eight) and Jack Ruder (seven) carrying St. Francis in various situations.
Evan Crawford added five points and 10 rebounds for the Golden Knights, who trailed, 3-2, a minute into the game, but then went on an 8-0 run and never led by less than a possession. The one Golden Knight who didn’t score didn’t attempt a shot in the final two minutes.
“We have good chemistry,” Leufroy said. “Some of us have been playing basketball with each other since we were kids. We know we can’t win by ourselves. We hold each other accountable. We try to be unselfish. Today was one of those days.”
The Golden Knights also wore down the Apaches with their strength, part of which comes from their players who competed on the football team and part of it due to their work ethic in the weight room.
“We work very hard and we’re physically strong,” O’Brien said. “Most of the guys on the team are 190-plus pounds. If you work hard and play hard, you crash the boards, you’re going to stay in a lot of games.”