LA CAÑADA — As the third-ranked team in the latest CIF Southern Section Division III-A poll, the St. Francis High basketball team appears on the verge of qualifying for the postseason in a couple of weeks.
However, all isn’t quite steady of late for the Golden Knights. They have slipped during the second half of Mission League play and have looked to gain some traction leading up to the final three league games.
St. Francis mustered only 25 second-half points and suffered a 64-57 league home loss against Harvard-Westlake on Friday night in front of a noisy crowd.
St. Francis dropped to 15-9, 4-6 in league with remaining league road games against Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and Chaminade on Monday and Wednesday, respectively. Harvard-Westlake, ranked No. 10 in Division IV-AA, completed the two-game season sweep of St. Francis to improve to 11-14, 4-7. The Wolverines posted a 64-63 win against the visiting Golden Knights on Jan. 13.
“We just had a lot of turnovers that led to them getting points,” said St. Francis co-Coach Ray O’Brien, whose team dropped to 1-3 in its last four games. “You don’t like to lose, but we better learn something from this because it’s late in the year.”
Harvard-Westlake received a game-high 26 points from Derick Newton and 18 from Alex Copeland to turn back the Golden Knights. Newton made 15 of 16 free-throw attempts, including all eight in the second half. Copeland had 10 second-half points.
St. Francis, which advanced to the quarterfinals last season, got a team-high 23 points from Kyle Leufroy and 11 from Evan Crawford. John Carroll finished with 10 points for the Golden Knights, who got eight points and eight rebounds from Greg Lupica.
The Golden Knights held a 32-27 halftime advantage before their offensive struggles appeared throughout most of the second half.
To make matters worse for the Golden Knights, Newton’s presence in the paint and Copeland’s clutch outside shooting buoyed the Wolverines.
“We didn’t do a very good job double-teaming Newton,” O’Brien said. “We knew where he was at, but it was difficult for just one guy to handle him.
“We tried to double-team him, but then Copeland started to hit some shots. It’s like pick your poison.”
Copeland scored on a layup to give the Wolverines a 60-57 lead with 43 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. St. Francis then had two three-point opportunities to tie it, but couldn’t convert. Mike Sheng and Newton then each made a pair of free throws to cap the victory.
Leufroy said the Golden Knights didn’t have an answer for Newton, who collected 15 second-half points.
“He definitely got a lot of calls,” said Leufroy, a junior guard and a reigning All-Area selection. “We just turned the ball over too many times and we weren’t able to close it out.
“It would have been nice to be able to go to Notre Dame by getting a win here. We have to be able to stay consistent.”
Leufroy made a three-pointer to give St. Francis a 40-31 lead with 4:34 left in the second quarter. He converted on a rare four-point play to put the Golden Knights ahead, 14-12, with 5.8 seconds remaining in the first quarter.