LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — There was a power shift in the Rio Hondo League Tuesday night and it came at the free-throw line.
The South Pasadena High boys’ basketball team shot 88% (21 for 24) from the charity stripe in the game, while La Cañada shot 53% (9 for 17) in a 44-38 Tigers victory at La Cañada High.
The Tigers’ Alireza Jabalameli, who finished with a game-high 19 points, said it’s because practice makes perfect.
“Believe it or not, we actually spend one hour almost every practice shooting free throws and that pays off right here,” Jabalameli said.
The win puts La Cañada’s bid for a third straight league crown in serious jeopardy and delivered South Pasadena a share of its first league crown since 1991, South Pasadena first-year Coach Tim Brown said.
“I don’t know if the guys really believed me when I told them they could [win league],” Brown said. “These guys made history. This is huge for our school and our program, that’s the kind of legacy these guys are going to leave.”
It was another struggle offensively for the Spartans (14-11, 6-3 in league), La Cañada Coach Tom Hofman said.
“This is like our eighth game in the 30s and in 26 years we’ve had like five of them,” said Hofman, whose team has won 10 of the last 11 league crowns. “We have to do a better job with our balance. We’re depending on one or two people a game [for offense] but the defense keeps them in it.”
South Pas (15-10, 7-2) got a huge lift from sub Harry Yadav when he hit a three-pointer to break a tie and scoring drought that lasted more than two minutes from both teams to give his team a 34-31 lead with four minutes to go.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” said Yadav, who had only spent a few seconds on the floor as a late sub before taking the shot. “I went out there, I was open, my teammate made a great pass and I knocked down the shot.”
Yadav had just made his first appearance in the game a few seconds earli¿ er, but had no trouble stepping into the three.
The Spartans missed a three of their own on their next trip down the floor but their defense gave them chances to stay in the game.
La Cañada’s Scott Helbing forced a steal on the next possession, but his layup attempt was contested, off the target and rebounded by Yadav with 3:40 left. The Spartans’ Daniel Jun drew a charge with 2:48 to go, but back-to-back three-point attempts from La Cañada after an offensive rebound were off the mark with the second miss being grabbed by Yadav with 2:15 remaining.
Jabalameli was fouled and made one of two free throws to give his team a 35-31 lead with 1:56 left.
Nerves weren’t much of a factor for any of the Tigers, as they shot 80% (eight for 10) from the free-throw line with just about two minutes to go.
The Tigers’ James Kawakami (six points) relished the moment as he made all six of his free throws in the final 1:29. All of Kawakami’s points were big, as he kept his team in front or widened its lead — to 37-33, 39-33 and 41-36 — with his last two points coming with 29 seconds left.
The Spartans were held scoreless for long spans on several different occasions Tuesday thanks to South Pasadena’s zone defense.
“It’s frustrating because we told them to hit the gaps really hard and we hit really well three times and went away from it,” Hofman said. “We’ll work on it in practice. I think it’s just a lack of confidence.”
Sebastian Lee put La Cañada up, 17-9, on a rebound and put back with 3:40 to go in the second quarter. The Spartans were kept off the board for about the next seven minutes.
Jabalameli converted an and-one opportunity two minutes into the third quarter to cap a 10-0 run to give the Tigers their first lead of the game, 19-17. Conner Boyd (six points, six rebounds) got La Cañada back on the board, scoring on a left-handed layup with 4:55 to go in the third quarter to tie the game at 19.
Hofman was upset with the officiating all night and it got him in trouble with 2:13 to go in the third when he was called for a technical foul for arguing a call. The tech let the Tigers increase a one-point lead to four, 27-23.
“I was doing the same thing I was the whole game and I had my back turned [when he gave me the technical],” Hofman said. “I should have gotten a warning. I take responsibility for that, but it was kind of a quick one.”
Darrell Dansby finished with a team-high 13 points and seven rebounds for La Cañada. Jay Srinivasan had nine points.
South Pasadena, which swept the season series against the Spartans, can clinch the title outright tonight with a win against Temple City, which it previously defeated, 48-41. La Cañada would need to beat Monrovia tonight and have Temple City win to earn a share of the title.