LA CAÑADA – Tom Hofman could see his La Cañada High boys’ basketball team was a little anxious.
With two sophomores in the starting lineup for a first-round playoff game against John Glenn and a bevy of upperclassmen looking to rebound from last season’s disappointing first-round exit, his young team proved a little trigger happy to open Wednesday night’s contest. By the midway point of a chippy first quarter, it had missed almost every shot, had just two points and trailed by one.
“We were just too nervous,” Hofman said. “Way too hyper. We played too fast. We took some terrible shots. We lost all our rhythm. A lot of kids out there with not a lot of experience. First playoff game. Big crowd”
Eventually, the Spartans settled down and dominated to topple the visiting Eagles, 59-39, advancing to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3-A playoffs.
“I told them to calm down,” said Hofman, smiling. “You got to start breathing, take your time and slow down.”
Winners of nine consecutive games, the third-seeded Spartans are scheduled to host No. 14 seeded Lompoc in the second round on Friday. The Braves defeated Excelsior Charter, 66-46.
For La Cañada (21-6), which led just, 11-8, after the opening quarter, the shots didn’t quite fall all at once.
But its lead began to grow steadily late in the second quarter.
At the 1:22 mark of the period, sophomore guard Koko Kurdoghlian nailed a jump shot from the right elbow of the lane to raise the lead to 10 points over the Eagles (7-20).
Two possessions later, Kurdoghlian found open senior guard Kevin Depriest, who drilled a three-pointer from the corner to put the Spartans up, 28-15, by intermission. It capped a 9-2 run to close the half.
Kurdoghlian finished with a game-high 22 points, including four assists.
“He’s the one who kept his composure,” Hofman said. “He wasn’t taking too many bad shots. He’s just a good athlete who’s learning how to use that athleticism to be a good basketball player. Last year, he was just an athlete with not a lot of control. This year, he’s an athlete who’s a good basketball player.”
To start the second half, the Spartans kept the pressure on against the Eagles, an at-large team out of the Suburban League that appeared overwhelmed and frustrated, capped by a technical foul called on the bench later in the fourth quarter.
“It was our defense – just helping each other out whenever we got beat,” Kurdoghlian said. “The steals. Their turnovers. We made points off their turnovers.”
La Cañada’s defense proved pestering, leading to several breakaway layup attempts, including several from senior guard Dan Jun, who finished with seven points. Sophomore guard Grant Arthur also had seven, as 10 players got on the scoreboard.
The Spartan’s lead grew to as much as 26 points with four minutes left in the fourth quarter when Jun drilled a three-pointer from straightaway. Most of the Spartans’ shots, though, came inside.
“We resorted to driving more instead of shooting,” Kurdoghlian said, “because we really couldn’t make shots today.”