First place in Foothill League boys basketball is, evidently, a dangerous place.
The three teams tied atop league standings entering Tuesday night all either lost or nearly lost.
Hart was the lone survivor, winning for the fifth time in its last six league games after Canyon’s potential game-tying 3-pointer fell short at the buzzer.
“It wasn’t the prettiest way to win,” said Hart senior Ben Kaufman, who scored a game-high 17 points, “but I’m just glad we did.”
Golden Valley and West Ranch weren’t as fortunate.
“We just got outplayed, out hustled, out worked, everything,” West Ranch coach Shant Bicakci said after a 62-51 loss at Saugus. “We came out flat. We had no emotion, had no energy, had no passion.
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“In this league you can’t do that. Teams are too good. If you think you can just walk into other people’s gym and beat them just because you’ve won three or four games in a row, it doesn’t work that way.”
Bicakci, whose team had its four-game Foothill winning streak snapped largely because it gave up numerous offensive rebounds in key situations, wasn’t finished.
“We didn’t play with any heart, didn’t play with any intensity. We didn’t show any toughness.”
Golden Valley coach Larry Keys echoed the sentiment after a 64-53 loss to Valencia, his team’s third loss in its last four league games after a 3-0 start.
“I just think the third and fourth quarter they wanted it more,” Keys said of the Vikings, who lost to Golden Valley by one earlier in the year on a coast-to-coast, buzzer-beating layup. “They were just a lot hungrier, they were fighting for rebounds, their defense got a little more active and I just don’t think we stepped up to the challenge.”
The challenge now is sorting out which teams will rise to the top by the end of league play.
Hart (16-7 overall, 5-2 in Foothill) sits alone in first, with Golden Valley (10-13, 4-3), Saugus (15-8, 4-3), Valencia (12-11, 4-3) and West Ranch (12-10, 4-3) all tied for second place.
The Wildcats have the opportunity Friday to create further chaos. A West Ranch win at Hart would likely force a four-way tie for first heading into the final week before playoffs.
The Cats, though, will need a better effort.
“I asked our assistant coach, ‘What could we have done better,’” West Ranch wing Austin Galuppo said walking off the floor Tuesday. “He said, ‘They just outplayed us.’”
Galuppo finished with 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting as the Centurions used a rotation of defenders to face guard him.
Bicakci said it wasn’t strategy that halted West Ranch’s roll.
“It really didn’t matter what they did,” he said. “Even if it didn’t work, they just went and got the (rebound) and scored. To tell you the truth … it was all effort and heart and we didn’t have any.”
Saugus will look to avoid a league sweep by Golden Valley on Friday, while Canyon (5-18, 0-7) will do the same at Valencia.