GLENDALE — Blistering outside shooting and swarming team defense were the dominant factors in a first-half blitz that allowed the St. Francis High basketball team to run away with an easy 56-31 pool-play victory over Burroughs in the Glendale Community College Tournament on Friday.
For Emerson Castaneda, who had the hottest hand from the field for the Golden Knights with 21 points on seven-for-10 shooting, there was no doubt as to which aspect was more critical to the team's success.
"It was the defense," said Castaneda, whose team held the Indians to 12 first-half points on five of 26 shooting. "Defense is what keeps us in the game and what wins championships. When we have a good defensive night, that's when we start knocking down our threes."
One thing indeed led to the other on Friday, as Castaneda sank five three-pointers out of six attempts, Zack Gardea, who scored 17 points, added three baskets from beyond the arc and Jhamir Jenkins chipped in two more.
"You've gotta take what the defense gives you," St. Francis co-Coach Ray O'Brien said. "I thought the threes that we took were pretty wide open, so as long as they come out of the offense and they're uncontested, I'm never gonna tell them not to shoot.
"I thought we ran the offense all right and I think that opened up the threes instead of us looking for the threes."
St. Francis quickly led, 8-2, after Castaneda's first two threes and a putback by Gardea within the first four minutes.
Crisp ball movement and effective screening continued to give the Golden Knights open looks from beyond the arc and Gardea sank an open three-pointer for an 11-4 lead at the 11:45 mark. By the midway point of the first half, Castaneda was three for three from downtown and St. Francis led, 14-4.
Castaneda, who shared the team high in rebounds with Gardea with five, corralled a long defensive rebound and took it the other way himself for a layup with 8:30 remaining in the half and Gardea connected on a three with 6:30 left for a commanding 24-7 lead, which grew to 25 points by halftime.
Jenkins, who finished with 10 points, gave the Golden Knights a 47-16 lead with a three-pointer at the 12:00 mark of the second half.
St. Francis, which opened pool play with a 58-56 loss to Valencia on Thursday, finished second in its pool and will play Grant in the first round of the fifth-place bracket at 12:20 p.m. today. The tournament concludes with the championship round on Sunday.