TEMPLE CITY — Recently, the Temple City High boys’ basketball team has taken over the top spot in the Rio Hondo League and La Cañada wants it back.
La Cañada has won at least a share of 10 of the last 12 Rio Hondo league titles as part of Spartans Coach Tom Hofman’s 21 Rio Hondo League titles in his 28-year varsity career at the school. However, last season it was Temple City that took home the Rio Hondo League crown, going undefeated along the way.
The two schools matched up Friday night for the first time this season in a key league contest with the Rams as host.
La Cañada found itself trailing by six at half. The Spartans turned things around in the second half and finally caught the Rams in the fourth for a 68-62 victory, to make them the final undefeated team in league play while bringing to a halt Temple City’s 16-game league winning streak.
La Cañada (14-6, 4-0) trailed by three points going into the final quarter in a physical, hardscrabble game. The Spartans took the lead briefly early in the fourth, but the Rams (10-7, 2-1) took it right back. The contest then became a sprint to the end after Ko Ko Kurdoghlian scored to tie the game at 50 and prompted the Rams to call a timeout with 5:16 to go.
“[Temple City] is the second-best team now in league, so that’s a pretty good win for us if we want to win league,” Spartans senior Jacob Brown said.
The Spartans, ranked No. 5 in CIF-Southern Section Division 3A, then outscored the Rams, 18-12, the rest of the way, taking the lead for good out of the timeout when Daivon Grayson stole the ball and drove for a lay-in on the fast break. In the final two minutes, the Rams closed to within one, but Kurdoghlian, who had 13 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth, hit five of six free throws in the final minute to pull away, expanding the advantage before Temple City’s Goren Lee, who led his team with 17 points, put in his third basket from long distance in the fourth to set the final margin.
“This is a great win for us,” Hofman said. “This is a solid, good fundamental team, well-coached in their gym. It’s a hard place for us to play in. ... It was a good team win for us.”
Kurdoghlian was the catalyst on offense throughout for the Spartans, finishing with a game-high 26 points while also collecting eight rebounds and four assists. The sophomore had nine points in the first half when he and fellow starting guard Dan Jun combined for 18 of their team’s 21 points. Temple City, on the strength of six three-pointers, led, 27-21, at the break.
“We didn’t really play very well in the first half,” Kurdoghlian said. “In the second half, we played with a better mentality, with more energy, it helped us win the game.”
In the second half, Kurdoghlian drove to the basket at will, as the Spartans ignited for 20 third-quarter points and 27 more in the fourth.
“The lanes were open, why not drive?” Kurdoghlian explained of his second-half strategy. “I just did what I could and drove.”
Brown joined Kurdoghlian in double digits with 12.
“Jacob had a good game,” Hofman said. “He had two huge threes for us that brought us back.”
The senior had two points at the half before draining those two three-pointers, both on assists from Kurdoghlian, early in the third quarter to chip away at the halftime deficit and fuel the third-quarter offensive onslaught. Sophomore Grant Arthur had nine points, all in the second half, including two threes in the fourth.
Jun finished with nine points, but eight came in the first quarter. The senior starter had a rough third quarter in which he was called for a technical foul for saying “Terrible” to the referee on the way off the floor following a questionable foul called on him battling under the rim. Jun then fouled out in the first minute of the fourth, making the comeback all the more impressive.
“We just put the ball on the ground a little more in the second half,” Hofman said of the change after the break. “We adjusted a little, [but Temple City] has a good defense. We’ve got to play them again and it’s going to be another tough one.”