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Valencia boys hoops playing free and easy ahead of CIF-SS 2A quarterfinals

Valencia's Josh Assiff (15) goes for a shot during a game against Mission Prep at Valencia on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

For better or worse, Jan. 30 will be a date the Valencia boys basketball team won’t soon forget.

It was the day its Foothill League title hopes evaporated in a controversial overtime loss to Hart.

It also kick-started a six-game winning streak, which has the Vikings hosting Hesperia in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2A quarterfinals at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

“We worked so hard to get to that point (of a league title) and to have someone strip it away with a judgement call was brutal,” said Valencia coach Bill Bedgood.

MORE: Valencia applies the pressure in win over Mission Prep

“At times this season, it’s been like pulling teeth to get these guys to play together. But we are way more connected at this point and I think (the Hart game) brought us closer together. We have more faith in each other.”

The Vikings (13-14) have been playing with a newfound ease that led them to beating a Mission Prep team in the second round Friday that had just knocked off the division’s No. 1 seed in St. Bernard and was on an six-game winning streak.

They also did that without arguably their top contributor, Dexter Akanno, who rolled his right ankle in last Thursday’s practice. Akanno — last season’s co-Foothill League Player of the Year — was in a walking boot Friday and Bedgood said he’ll be a game-time decision Tuesday.

“He’s definitely feeling better,” Bedgood said of Akanno. “We’ll test it out before the game and see where he’s at.”

Whereas_ the loss of Akanno might have spelled the end of the Vikings’ season had it been in the preleague, they led by 20-plus points going into the fourth quarter against Mission Prep.

“Now, it seems kind of effortless to get them to play together because they’ve bought into the system and have been through so much,” said Bedgood, who’s in his first year at Valencia after coaching Saugus the previous four seasons.”

Without Akanno in the lineup last Friday, the Vikings leaned on their bigs Josh Assiff, Jayden Trower and Richard Kawakami, who were the team’s top three scorers and combined for 45 points.

Valencia will once again be tasked with slowing down a team on a streak. Hesperia (24-5) has won 14 games in a row since gaining the services of Oak Hills transfer Jaden Shackelford.

Shackelford — a 6-foot-2 junior — has averaged 18 points through Hesperia’s two playoff victories.

“We were able to get some game film from their latest win and before (Shackelford) was eligible,” Bedgood said. “We’ve felt pretty good about we’ve matched up lately but any time you play a team that used to winning, you know they’re not going to be pushed around.”

SCCS to host La Quinta

The Cardinals will look to make it 12 wins in a row Tuesday night when they host La Quinta in the Division 5AAA quarterfinals at 7 p.m. at The Master’s University.

SCCS made quick work of Rubidoux in the second round with an 83-23 victory after receiving a first-round bye.

MORE: SCCS boys hoops starts strong and doesn’t stop against Rubidoux

With a win, the Cardinals would play either Bloomington or Fairmont Prep on Friday.

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