Foothill League hoops is a close-shave club

Golden Valley's Milan Taylor (25) high-fives teammates during a basketball game at Golden Valley on Friday. The Grizzlies won their first three Foothill League games by three points or less. Katharine Lotze/Signal

By the time Valencia boys basketball coach Chad Phillips emerged from the visitor’s locker room Friday night at Saugus High, the clock was already ticking down.

“We can be excited tonight,” he said after Valencia beat the Centurions by four, “but in six hours, I’m thinking about the next one.”

In all likelihood, it’ll be another nail-biter.

Saugus’ Zach Phipps (22) goes in for a layup as West Ranch’s Chris Joo (3) and Ben Birchall (10) try to block him during a basketball game at West Ranch earlier this month. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

The first 12 games across the Foothill League have been decided by an average of 5.41 points, the lowest differential through the first four nights of league since at least the 2005-2006 season.

Nine games have been decided by single digits, six by three points or less.

Hart coach Tom Kelly, for one, isn’t surprised. The 17-year coach says the same thing before every season.

“The Foothill League, in basketball, is a dogfight,” he said earlier this month. “In my opinion, there’s no dominant team and any team can beat anybody.”

This year that’s especially true.

Kelly’s team, which mostly waltzed to a 10-0 league record last season for its third straight Foothill title, has lost two games by one point.

Before losing to Hart (2-2 in Foothill) on Friday, Golden Valley (3-1) won each of its first three games by three points or less.

All four of Saugus’ games have been decided by five points or less. West Ranch (2-2) can say the same about three of its games.

“The league is so competitive this year and every game is really close,” said Wildcat forward Suren Aghazadian, “so the champion could end up being 7-3. Every win counts this year because there is not one dominant team or clear favorite.”

Since the 2006-07 season, the league’s lowest point differential through 12 games had been 8.17, set in 2008-09. The first two weeks of league in every other year in that range have been decided by an average of double digits — the highest mark coming in 2011-12 (17.5 points).

That’s not to say other seasons haven’t had close games.

The 2010-11 season had nine single-digit games through its first 12 (same as this year). But two 30-point blowouts bumped the average margin of victory up to 10.9 points.

Blowouts like that seem unlikely this year.

The biggest differentials so far have been Hart’s 16-point win over Golden Valley, Hart’s 12-point win over Canyon and Valencia’s 10-point win over Canyon.

Valencia’s Kyler Motoyasu, right, grabs a loose ball away from West Ranch’s Austin Galuppo at Valencia earlier this month. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Cowboys are 0-4, but, in preleague play, they beat Golden Valley by 15 points in late December.

The lesson: Every team is capable of an upset.

“League is such a gauntlet this year,” Phillips said, “because the teams are so evenly matched. Any win is a good win, especially any win on the road.”

Valencia, Saugus and West Ranch are looking for road wins tonight.

The Vikings (3-1) last beat Hart on the road on Jan. 27, 2015.

Saugus (2-2) last beat Canyon on the road on Feb. 12, 2015.

West Ranch has beaten Golden Valley 12 straight times dating back to 2011.

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