PASADENA — Defending home court starts with defense, as the Pasadena High boys' basketball team proved on Friday night in an 80-59 win over Crescenta Valley that was also a huge step for the Bulldogs' in defending their Pacific League title.
"We had to [come out with intensity]. Somebody was going to be [knocked] out of first place today," said Pasadena Coach Tim Tucker, whose team and the Falcons entered the game in a three-way tie for first place in league with Muir.
The nine-time defending champs are used to having a target on their backs, particularly when the Falcons come to town, but on Friday looked anything but ready to concede league superiority. Forcing Crescenta Valley into tough shots and bad passes, the Bulldogs used their aggression on the boards and quickness in the open floor to convert turnovers and stops into points at every opportunity.
"We just came prepared. We know CV is a good team and we just tried to play our hardest," said guard Blake Hamilton, whose 18 points and eight rebounds led the Bulldogs, along with 17 points and 10 rebounds from junior power forward Brandon Jolley. "Defense comes first with our team. We try to come and play good defense and that's when good things happen on offense."
Crescenta Valley (15-3, 4-1 in league) trailed by seven at halftime and had been down by as many as 10 in the first half, but had also been down by just two early in the second. Despite the Falcons' scoring enough to stay in the game, the Bulldogs were still building large first-half advantages in shot attempts (37-20), offensive rebounds (11-2) and turnovers, giving the ball up just once compared to the Falcons' nine.
"[Being down] seven in the game of basketball, with all the runs, is still a reasonable number," said Falcons Coach Shawn Zargarian, who got 18 points from senior forward Christian Misi and 11 points apiece from guards Cole Currie and Dylan Kilgour. "I thought if we cleaned up a couple of things that we thought were hurting us, which was offensive rebounds and points off of turnovers, we might be OK, but it seemed like we got worse at that stuff."
Pasadena (12-6, 5-0) kicked things into gear behind its transition offense to begin the third, taking a 43-32 lead on a Perris Hicks jumper after a pair of Falcons misses and parlaying another long defensive rebound into a Jolley layup on the next trip down for a 45-32 lead that prompted a timeout from the Falcons.
The Bulldogs continued to build the lead, however, as Jolley pulled down a defensive rebound and dribbled the length of the court before passing off to Hamilton for a dunk that made the score 52-37 with 2:30 left in the third. Chris Hanyan hit a three-pointer from the corner to push the Bulldogs' lead as high as 20 for the first time, at 57-37, with 1:30 left in the third, which ended with Pasadena holding a commanding 59-44 lead.
"When you get down double figures you try and speed up the game to try and catch up and that's an advantage for Pasadena," said Zargarian, whose team faces Muir at home on Tuesday. "We miss a couple, they score on two or three and now the game gets out of hand. Our guys got a little frustrated with the score and the way we were playing.
"The way our league is with 14 games, we can't worry about this. We've got a very talented Muir team coming in on Tuesday, if we dwell on this, we're going to be in trouble."