Highlanders keep up scoring pace, roll past Warren
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
WHITTIER – Using a formula similar to its Saturday win, the La Habra boys’ basketball team wrapped up the 4th Annual Whittier Holiday Invitational with a high-powered 79-65 victory over Warren of Downey, Monday afternoon at Whittier High.
The Highlanders started the contest on an 8-0 run, hit four of their first five shots and never trailed in finishing the tournament with a 3-1 record.
“That’s been huge, we’ve been talking as a group about moving the ball and that we’ll get good shots if we keep moving it around,” Ploog said of his team’s quick start. “To come out and have starts like that helps everything, our flow, our confidence. We weren’t getting that in the beginning of the year, but now I feel like we’re getting more comfortable with our shot and playing with each other.”
Zach Gray evenly spread his team-high 26 points across all four quarters, while Adam Cooley and Michael Banks also scored in double figures with 17 and 13 points, respectively.
Cooley hauled in a team-high seven rebounds and five different players had at least two assists.
The Highlanders’ defense held Warren to 15 points or less in all but one quarter and forced 12 turnovers.
Banks was also a key contributor with five rebounds, two blocks and three steals.
“Defensively, with his length, we’ve been talking with him about not jumping,” Ploog said. “He loves to jump, but it gets him out of position, but with his size and length, if he just stays down he’s always in a good position and he was able to get tips and some good rebounds on the defensive end.”
Gray opened the game with a 3-pointer, which was followed by a steal and dunk by Banks and another 3-pointer by Cooley. After the Bears scored their first basket, Justin Jaimez drained another 3-pointer to give the Highlanders an early 11-2 lead.
However, in the second quarter, Warren (5-7) was sparked by guards D’Caron Anderson and Shree Narkar, who combined for six 3-pointers and pulled even with La Habra at one point, 33-33 after Narkar drained his fourth long-distance shot. The duo scored 20 of the Bears’ 26 second-quarter points.
Anderson led the Bears with 24 points, while Narkar added 15 points on five 3-pointers.
However, Banks countered with a trio of nice drives inside and Peter Hutchinson drained a pair of jump shots to keep La Habra ahead 43-38 at halftime.
But the Highlanders (10-3) came out strong defensively in the third quarter, holding Anderson without a field goal, though he did hit seven free throws.
“We talked at halftime about switching all our screens,” Ploog said. “They would screen, and then screen the guy who was screening, which got us confused. We just started switching every screen, which made it hard for them to get that first easy pass because we were out on the perimeter. It hindered our rebounding a bit, but it helped because we were pressuring the shooters faster.”
Cooley and Banks scored five points and hauled in two offensive rebounds each in the quarter, while Gray hit another 3-pointer as the Highlanders extended the lead to nine points heading into the fourth quarter.
The lead remained in the high single digits until Warren Head Coach Ryan Hart was whistled twice for technical fouls for arguing, which allowed Gray to hit four consecutive free throws. Adam Cooley scored a layup on the ensuing possession for a quick 6-0 La Habra swing.
La Habra used bench players from that point on in cruising to its second consecutive double-digit win.
“I think we stayed consistent on defense, which is our key,” Ploog said. “Sometimes it’s hard night after night to play, but I still think we’re a good defensive team. We’re progressing in our offense in terms of knowing who our shooters are, where to shoot and we’ve worked on our free throws too, we just want to keep improving.”
The Highlanders will head to El Toro High on Thursday for a nonleague matchup with Tesoro in the OC North/South Challenge.