Highlanders struggle to keep pace with Canyon, fall in second round
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
SANTA CLARITA – After picking up its upset win in the first round, the La Habra boys’ basketball team couldn’t match a quick tempo by Canyon of Canyon Country in a 67-50 loss in the second round of the CIF-SS Division 2AA playoffs, Tuesday night at Canyon High.
The Highlanders fell into a double-digit deficit twice in the first half, but responded well both times and went into halftime down by six points.
However, in the third quarter, Canyon’s quick zone defense caused problems for the Highlanders, who rushed shots and missed second chance opportunities down low.
“They do an extended zone, so we were really trying to get the ball down low to Adam [Cooley], but it was hard,” said Dave Ploog, La Habra head coach. “Their pressure was forcing us to take bad shots and we really couldn’t get into rhythm. I thought we had some really good looks on 3-pointers, but against a team like this you have to hit your shots and we shot a really low 3-point percentage tonight.”
Canyon switched between full-court press and half court zone defensive schemes. During full-court presses, La Habra struggled to find breathing room in the backcourt.
The Cowboys turned some of those turnovers into fastbreak points and Canyon did most of its damage by slashing through defenders to get to the basket and hitting timely 3-pointers.
“I think we were just surprised by their tempo, because we didn’t see a lot of teams that play this way,” Ploog said. “We just weren’t able to get into a groove.”
Canyon guard Mark Cabrera scored 12 of his 16 points by consistently driving through the interior of La Habra’s defense.
Cabrera was only outdone by guard Ben Taufahema, who scored nine of his 18 points in the fourth quarter as the Cowboys ran away into the quarterfinals.
“In the second half, [their pace] had a major impact because we were also in foul trouble,” Ploog said. “We weren’t really getting into rhythm, we weren’t getting any good looks. In the fourth quarter, we were scoring, but they kept getting them back.”
The Highlanders tried to slow down and stick to their offensive gameplan, but found themselves getting forced into Canyon’s tempo by an aggressive Cowboys’ zone defense.
If La Habra broke through the defense for a score, Canyon would try to run the floor, forcing La Habra to be aware and quick in transition, which wasn’t always easy.
However, in the first half, La Habra was resilient and battled back. In the second quarter, the Highlanders adjusted defensively to hold Canyon to 12 points..
After falling behind 16-4 midway in the first quarter, Zach Gray hit a jumper and a 3-pointer to lead a 10-2 run by La Habra to end the opening frame.
The Highlanders again fell behind by double digits at 26-16 in the second quarter, but the team responded with aggressive offensive play, which may not have resulted in baskets from the floor, but it did lead to six made free throws.
But after a half of trying to keep pace, the Highlanders struggled to find good shots against Canyon’s aggressive zone, scoring just five points in the third quarter.
Canyon (23-6) ran away, scoring 27 points in the fourth quarter. La Habra’s season ends at 16-12.
Gray and Adam Cooley led the Highlanders with 15 points each, while David Desatoff and Michael Banks added seven points.
Cooley led the team with eight rebounds, while Desatoff came away with seven rebounds.
“Our seniors were able to bond, knowing that this was their last chance,” Ploog said. “I thought we came together well at the end of the season. As a coach, it’s great to have kids that like to work hard and like to play together and that’s what I’ll take away from this season. Not the wins and losses, but the fact that this team was always ready to work hard and play together.”
The Highlanders will lose 10 seniors to graduation, which means Ploog and his staff may have to alter their offensive gameplan moving forward for next year.
One thing that will remain constant will be the emphasis on defense, which showed progress this year in comparison to his debut season as head coach last year.
“We just need to keep focusing on our keys and work on becoming more of an offensive team,” Ploog said. “We want to work on some more sets. This year, we were able to spread the floor and let our athletes work, but we may need to change that moving forward. We always work hard and take pride in our defense, but we have a lot of guards coming up, so we may need to play a faster game.