St. Francis High basketball bests South Hills, 73-53

LA CAÑADA —The St. Francis High basketball team looked to go two for two playing the second half of back-to-back games in pool play of the 2013 La Cañada Classic before the whole tournament takes a collective day of rest.

To do this, the Golden Knights would need to defeat South Hills, as they did with Arcadia the night before, to stay in control of the four-team Pool B, which is rounded out by Bonita.

St. Francis hammered South Hills in the first half, using strong defense to lead by 27 at the break before riding out the second half for a 73-53 victory.

“I thought they played pretty good in the first half,” St. Francis co-coach Jeff Stephens, who was coaching solo on Wednesday, said. “I think 12 guys played in the first half, so it gets a little awkward, but I thought they played great ‘D.’ We wanted to play good ‘D’ in the second half, but what are you going to do?”

The Golden Knights (5-1) got going around the midpoint of the first quarter when the Huskies hit a three to pull within a basket at 8-6. After that, St. Francis outscored South Hills (4-5) by a 13-0 margin for the rest of the quarter. Senior Evan Crawford and junior Michael Allen each had six points in the frame, after which the Golden Knights led, 21-6.

“We thought we were the superior team going in,” Crawford said. “So we thought as long as we executed we’d get the win.”

In the first half, the St. Francis half-court defense must have looked like a stone wall to the Huskies, who struggled to penetrate and hoisted up long-range shots that were consistently off the mark.

South Hills was limited to seven points in the second quarter, which saw St. Francis, currently ranked No. 3 in the CIF-Southern Section Division IIIA coaches’ poll, repeatedly score on the break as the Huskies repeatedly failed to stop the ball coming down the court in transition. The lead ballooned to as much as 29 before the halftime horn sounded with the Golden Knights comfortably in control at 40-13.

The second half was a different story, as the Huskies came out with significantly more energy to put up 40 points of their own to outpace St. Francis by seven after the break, but the game’s ultimate result was never in doubt.

“Our defense should have been better in that second half. I don’t know what it was,” Stephens said.

The Golden Knights had 10 players score at least two points and were led by junior Kyle Leufroy, who came off the bench to score 18. Crawford was next with 14 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists. Markar Agakanian joined them in double digits with 11 points. Allen had eight points to go along with five rebounds.

In the fourth quarter, St. Francis saw its lead soar to 30 points on a Greg Lupica basket on the fast break. After that, South Hills hit three unanswered shots from beyond the arc and added a free throw to cut the lead to 20. Golden Knight Jake Beck then ended the 10-0 scoring streak with a three-point basket off an assist from Eric Baghdasaryan. South Hills drained eight three-pointers in the second half.

“[In the first half] we really packed it in the defense and didn’t let them shoot threes,” Crawford said, “and in the second half we didn’t.”

With St. Francis’ win over South Hills, which is making its first appearance at the Classic, the Golden Knights set up a showdown on Friday at 6 p.m. against Bonita, with the winner of that game taking the top spot in Pool B. Bonita, ranked No. 10 in Division IIIAA, also beat Arcadia and South Hills while holding each to 33 points in 39-point and 26-point wins, respectively.

“We’re going to get out of here, practice a little bit tomorrow, and then Bonita on Friday and they’re pretty darn good,” Stephens said.

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