PASADENA — Reminders of the 2013-14 season were all around for the La Cañada High boys’ basketball team at Tuesday afternoon’s pool play action of the Maranatha High Summer Block Party.
The Spartans returned to the site where last year’s campaign ended in the playoffs, and although still months away from the start of a new season, showed signs of rust in a 68-45 defeat to Oak Park.
“We looked a lot better [on Monday],” La Cañada Coach Tom Hofman said. “I thought we were in the game and even had a chance to take the lead, but we let Oak Park get on a run right before the half and they almost ran us out of the building. Obviously, we’ll take this as a learning experience.”
With the defeat, the Spartans may have surrendered their chance to win their three-team pool as La Cañada finished 1-1. The Spartans began the summer league with a 57-47 victory versus Pasadena, Hofman’s alma mater, on Monday.
Oak Park will face Pasadena on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. to determine which team wins the pool and what opponent each squad will play Thursday.
The meeting between La Cañada and Oak Park would have been a rematch of last season’s CIF Southern Section Division III-A championship game if not for a late 11-0 run by St. Francis that knocked the Spartans out of the playoffs via a 56-53 defeat in the semifinals at Maranatha High on Feb. 28.
With St. Francis in attendance and waiting to play Cantwell Sacred Heart in the following game, the Spartans closed an eight-point halftime deficit with the first two buckets of the 20-minute second half, which featured a running clock, to climb within 33-29 after a six-footer from newcomer Daivon Grayson (five points) with 19:29 remaining.
What the Spartans didn’t know at that the time was that Grayson’s field goal marked the closest the team would get the rest of the second half.
Oak Park, which claimed the Division III-A title, rallied with a 15-3 run capped by a three-point play from Kenneth Koffi to take a 48-32 advantage with 10:11 remaining in the contest.
La Cañada countered with a three-pointer from Jackson Slater on the next offensive series to slash its deficit to 13 points.
Unfortunately for La Cañada, that was the last hoorah as the Spartans eventually fell behind by 20 points before suffering a 23-point defeat.
“I really don’t think we played well at all,” said Spartans guard Koko Kurdoghlian, who will be a junior in the fall. “We didn’t do well defensively and too many times on offense we played with our heads down and took bad shots.”
Kurdoghlian turned in a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds and said despite the defeat, there was value in the loss.
“Coming back to Maranatha, I really didn’t think too much about last year and the [semifinal game],” Kurdoghlian said. “To be honest, this is about this year and getting ready and this tournament has great competition.”
Grant Arthur and Ben Choi each added nine points each for La Cañada.
One problem the Spartans encountered Tuesday, and will likely face during the summer and regular season, was a height disadvantage.
While Oak Park guard Michael Alvarez led all scorers with 20 points and four rebounds, perhaps the most dominant effort came from 6-foot-6 Eagles center Riley Battin, who controlled the paint and tallied 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“I don’t think size is an issue unless we’re playing someone really big,” Grayson said. “Rebounding and defense against size is a matter of hustle and desire. You have to want to defend and we’re going to have to get better at that going forward.”
Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.