LA CAÑADA —Both teams came off wins in their respective Rio Hondo League boys’ basketball openers, as Monrovia High came to La Cañada High.
Through the first three quarters, La Cañada controlled the action and then weathered a ragged final period before winning, 66-55, over the Wildcats, who never went away but could never quite pull close enough to put the eventual result in question.
“I think we played a good 24 minutes and then a real sloppy, bad eight minutes,” La Cañada Coach Tom Hofman said. “We’re young and we do things at the end of games. We have the chance to put games away and we just don’t seem to be able to do that right now.”
The victory keeps the Spartans (12-5, 2-0), ranked No. 5 in the most recent CIF Southern Section Division III-A rankings, in control of their quest to win the 22nd Rio Hondo crown in Hofman’s 28-year tenure at the school after finishing second last season. It was also Hofman victory No. 602 and pushes the his Rio Hondo record to 239-33.
“It was a good win overall; we just need to work on a few things,” La Cañada’s Ko Ko Kurdoghian said. “This win kind of lets us know that we’re one of the better teams in the league.”
The Spartans (12-5, 2-0), who held a nine-point lead after the first quarter and held that advantage at halftime, blew open the game after the break. The third quarter started with a 10-0 run by La Cañada with Kurdoghian getting it started with two straight assists coming off ball movement, first to fellow sophomore starter Grant Arthur and next to a trailing Jacob Brown, who drained a three-pointer. Arthur followed with a three of his own before Kurdoghian finished the burst with an offensive rebound and putback.
The lead peaked at 21 points near the midpoint of the third when Kyle Thomas connected on a shot from long range off another Kurdoghian assist to make the score 50-29. After that, things started to go the way of the Wildcats.
“When we got that 20-point lead we just stopped playing and settled for wild shots,” Hofman said.
Kurdoghian led the Spartans with 16 points, which included 10 of his team’s 25 first-quarter points. The sophomore also had nine rebounds and four assists.
“In the first half we were good,” Kurdoghian said, “looking for the extra pass, better shots whenever we had it ... the second half we kind of fell off.”
Arthur joined him in double figures with 15 points. Senior guard Dan Jun had nine points with eight coming in the first quarter.
“Danny was sick yesterday with major migraines,” Hofman said. “I thought he came back and was really effective.”
Senior Kevin Depriest had eight points off the bench and was followed by Kyle Thomas with seven, which included four in the final quarter to settle the Spartans as they struggled to close out the game.
“We’ve got to play better defense,” Jun said. “It’s got to be the whole team, not just a couple guys.”
After the midpoint of the third quarter and until completion, the play got increasingly ragged as the large contingent of underclassman filling the Spartan bench saw more playing time and struggled to finish the game against a Monrovia (9-8, 1-1) squad that kept coming at them.
“We need to do a better job putting games away,” Hofman said. “This is the third game in a row where we’ve had a good lead and then let the game get close in the fourth quarter.”
The final point of the game came on a free throw by Spartans senior Jon Lee to set the 11-point final margin, although Monrovia outscored the home team, 13-11, in the final period, which saw the Spartans’ lead shrink to as little as nine. For the game, the Wildcats were led in scoring by sophomore Aubrey Fisher with 16.
“It was a pretty good game. We just need to figure out those eight minutes,” said Hofman, whose team plays next on the road against Blair.