St. Francis stifled by No. 1 Alemany

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — The St. Francis High boys' basketball team's bid to knock off a second Mission League heavyweight in a span of three days never got out of the first quarter on Friday night. Overmatched by Alemany's offensive firepower to begin with, the Golden Knights stood little chance when the Warriors' defense took over the game early en route to a 76-45 victory.

Alemany, the top-ranked team in CIF Southern Section 3-A, filled passing lanes, picked pockets and forced eight turnovers in the first quarter. The Warriors (19-3, 8-1 in league) turned nearly all of them into points, as well, boosting their lead to 17 by the end of the period.

"They come out aggressive, they're a very athletic team and the minute you make any kind of turnovers against them — you're already at a disadvantage — turnovers just make it really bad," said St. Francis Coach Ray O'Brien, whose team, ranked ninth in Division 3-A, was coming off a 66-52 win on Wednesday over Crespi, which is ranked third in Division 4-AA. "We ended that quarter with two turnovers and they jump out, 24-7, and you've set the tone for the game."

St. Francis (9-14, 2-7) was led by 19 points from Emerson Castaneda and 10 from Zack Gardea as the team spent much of the game struggling to make up ground against an Alemany squad led by 24 points and seven rebounds from Marqueze Coleman and bolstered by 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds from Max Guercy.

With just over two minutes to play in the opening half, St. Francis was very much in the game, within two possessions at 12-7, before Alemany pulled away at warp speed with a 12-0 run to close the quarter.

The run began with back-to-back three-pointers by Guercy and Coleman and continued with a flurry of transition offense. Brandon Boyd picked off a Golden Knights pass and was off to the races for an easy layup before Coleman took a steal the length of the floor on the next possession, finishing with a slam dunk. Coleman closed the run and the quarter with his second dunk in a row off a long outlet pass from Guercy for a 24-7 lead.

St. Francis found some offensive spark in the second quarter, led by Castaneda's 13 points, and made four of eight attempts from beyond the arc, but still couldn't make any headway against the deficit.

Alemany kept pace with the Golden Knights' hot shooting, and then some, as the Warriors also knocked down four three-pointers in the quarter, including a bomb from Coleman from several feet beyond the arc that gave Alemany its biggest lead of the game, 44-23, with under a minute left in the first half.

"You've got to hope they have an off shooting night from the outside and that didn't happen," O'Brien said. "They hit 11 threes in the game and when they missed a three-point shot, it's hard to box them out because the rebound is so long and they're so athletic. They were getting a lot of offensive rebounds off of threes. I didn't think we did anything strategically wrong, we just had a bad matchup. They're too athletic and it's hard to make any defensive adjustments that are going to cure that."

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