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PREP BASKETBALL ROUNDUP : Little Guy Topples a Big Guy and PV Cagers Upset Torrance, 51-42

Times Staff Writer

Wednesday night, when Torrance High School’s biggest gun fell silent, Palos Verdes’ littlest sharpshooter won the battle on the court by doing all the little things right.

And when the little sniper was through, Palos Verdes (13-7 overall, 3-3 in league) had stolen a 51-42 victory on Torrance’s home court and kept alive its hopes for a Bay League playoff berth.

John Mika, Palos Verdes’ 5-9 point guard, collared Brian Sabunas, the Tartars’ dangerous three-point shooter, with a workmanlike box-and-one defense in the first half. Sabunas, who came into the game averaging 15.2 points per game, emerged from Mika’s stranglehold with a mere two points.

Then Mika connected on 13 of 13 free throws down the stretch and finished with a game-high 17 points.

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And with 39 seconds left in the final quarter, Mika intercepted a pass from Sabunas to Wesley Nakashima and thwarted a two-on-one fast break for Torrance that could have cut the Sea Kings’ lead to three.

“John Mika is a super guard, obviously” said Torrance Coach Carl Strong, whose Tartars dropped to 3-3 in the Bay League and 6-13 overall. “He’s got great court sense.

“All of our guys knew his moves but we didn’t set screens against him (when Mika was playing man defense against Sabunas). Maybe he was so short we missed him.”

Mika was easy to spot at the free throw line. Hitting foul shots is nothing new to Mika, who was perfect on 25 attempts in Las Vegas Prep Holiday Classic in December.

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He gave Palos Verdes the lead for good when he knocked down his first two free throws and put the Sea Kings up 26-25. That was after Torrance got a short-lived lead on a pair of outside jumpers by point guard Nakashima, who finished with 10 points.

Sabunas, however, was never a factor in the game and, frustrated, sat out most of the last quarter with four fouls. Mika covered the 6-2 guard like a blanket and twice picked Sabunas’ pocket for steals in the fourth quarter.

“I thought I could shut (Sabunas) down,” Mika said, despite a height disadvantage of 5 inches. “I’m quicker and can break away from screens. He’s a great shooter, and that’s why we did that (use the box-and-one defense).”

Forward Jeff Whitley added 10 points for Palos Verdes and Mike Matteoni and Matt Ralph contributed 7 apiece. Center Mark Herbers led the Tartars with 15 points and guard Jerold Balcom scored 7.

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“The game was stop-stop from one end to the other,” Palos Verdes Coach John Mihaljevich said. “I thought the game would never end. We were our own worst enemy at the start with all the fouls.”

North Torrance 63, Rolling Hills 57--Senior guard Dean Taylor scored 7 of his career-high 34 points in the fourth quarter to help the host Saxons post their first Bay League win and hand Rolling Hills its first league loss.

North (6-12 overall, 1-5 in league) trailed most of the game, but took the lead for good with about three minutes left. The Saxons outscored Rolling Hills 15-6 in the fourth quarter.

Rolling Hills, ranked No. 2 in the CIF-3A Division, had a seven-game winning streak snapped as well as a 15-game winning streak in league over the last two years. The Titans, 15-5 overall, dropped into a first-place tie with West Torrance, both at 5-1.

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North Coach Jim Nielsen said one of the keys to the upset was the defensive job the Saxons did against Rolling Hills center John Hardy (18 points). Steve Tesoro and Rory Natividad guarded Hardy, who was frustrated by a box-and-one defense.

Taylor shot 14 of 19 from the floor. Senior guard Anthony Anetema contributed 14 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals for North. He had 3 steals in the fourth quarter.


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