Cleveland High forward Richard Branham found himself both bandaged and benched before the Cavaliers' Valley League showdown with unbeaten Kennedy on Wednesday.
The 6-4 senior had two fingers on his right hand taped together to protect a finger he dislocated in practice last week. He had also been bumped from the starting lineup seven games ago by Coach Bob Braswell.
"He's struggled and he lost his position," Braswell said. "I told him it's not a demotion. It's just that he's more relaxed when he comes off the bench."
Relaxed and ready, Branham entered the game before it was three minutes old. But before the contest was over, it was Branham's counterpart, Kennedy senior Clarence Williams, who had taken a seat.
Williams tried unsuccessfully to contain Branham and fouled out for the first time this season. Branham, meanwhile, scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as Cleveland clobbered Kennedy, 85-66, at Cleveland.
"This is great for him," Braswell said. "The game was very satisfying. You like to win the big games. They were 11-0 and feeling really good about themselves. We helped ourselves and ended their streak."
The win moved Cleveland (11-2, 3-1 in league play) into a second-place tie with Kennedy (11-1, 3-1). It also ended any talk that Kennedy was the best defensive team in the Valley.
"We saw it in the papers," Braswell said. "And the guys kind of took it personally."
Said forward Damon Charlot, who scored 11 points: "The scoreboard showed who had the best defense."
Kennedy moved the ball quickly and disrupted the Cavaliers' man-to-man defense in the first quarter. Forward Leon Ware penetrated for seven points as the Golden Cougars took a 13-12 lead into the second period.
The Cavaliers, however, implemented a strong full-court press and outscored Kennedy by 12 points to take a 44-33 halftime lead and permanent control of the game.
"Our strategy going in was that we weren't going to be predictable," Braswell said. "We did it with our defense. No one screams about defense more than I do."
And no one played as well as Branham. The all-league player, who has signed a letter of intent with Cal, scored 10 points in the third quarter as Cleveland, ranked No. 2 in The Times' Valley poll, extended its lead to 63-46. Branham also gave lessons at the free throw line, making 11 of 13.
"The last couple of weeks we've been working on free throws," Branham said.
Braswell orders his players to shoot 50 free throws before and 50 after practice. Against third-ranked Kennedy the extra shooting paid off. Williams and Randy Brown, who also fouled out in the fourth quarter, were unable to contain Branham without being whistled for a foul.
"Williams is a pretty good defensive player," Branham said. "He goes at you like an animal."
Said Williams of Branham: "Every time he came in I was guarding him. He didn't give me that much trouble."
But Kennedy had trouble keeping pace as the Cavaliers extended their lead to 80-69--their biggest margin--on Charlot's second three-point shot of the game. Cleveland made 5 of 7 three-point shots.
Adonis Jordan, who finished with eight steals, twice stole the ball in the fourth quarter for breakaway buckets. Jordan, a junior guard, finished with 16 points.
Williams, who left the game with 4:55 to play and Kennedy trailing, 67-51, had only seven points. Ware led the Golden Cougars with 19 points and Eugene Miller scored 14.
"We just didn't have it," Kennedy Coach Yutaka Shimizu said. "We didn't shoot well and we turned the ball over too many times. We had the wrong personnel to contest their defense today.
"But we'll play them again in 2 1/2 weeks."
Cleveland's only league defeat was against City 4-A champion Fairfax, 78-69. Fairfax plays at Kennedy on Friday night.
"We had to step up and beat them," Braswell said. "If we had lost, we would have been two games out of first place. In our league, that's a tough position to be in."