Preparation pays off for Valencia boys basketball against Santa Monica

Valencia senior forward Jayden Trower goes up for the layup in a playoff matchup with Santa Monica at Valencia High School Tuesday Night. Cory Rubin/The Signal
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The Valencia boys basketball team was very prepared headed into its playoff game against Santa Monica on Tuesday. It had six films, went to see the Samo’s first-round playoff game and had even beat them on Dec. 28 in the Damien Tournament. Valencia had a bye week, too.

It was to the point that coach Bill Bedgood felt his team was almost over-prepared. All the planning worked in Valencia’s favor, however, as the team beat Santa Monica 52-40 in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2AA playoffs at Valencia.

“You’re watching all these films of them thinking, these guys are good, they’ve beaten a lot of good teams after they lost to us,” Bedgood said. “We really wanted to just make sure that we weren’t taking them lightly, that we were prepared, that we’re not just assuming that we’re going to beat them.”

Valencia (23-6 overall) shook off the rust of a bye week in the opening seconds of the game, then got straight to work. Jake Hlywiak scored on a jumper to open the game, then Jayden Trower followed with a basket of his own.

Richard Kawakami got hot immediately after. In a span of two minutes, he forced his way into the paint, then scored on a two-pointer. Shortly after, he sank two free throws and executed a layup after a bounce pass from Nick Jenney. He then came up with a steal and passed to Josh Assiff for a layup to make it 13-5 in Valencia’s favor with four minutes to go in the frame.

Valencia senior point guard Richard Kawakami puts up a shot in a playoff matchup with Santa Monica at Valencia High School Tuesday Night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Valencia had a high-motor defense as well, only allowing Santa Monica (21-8) to score four points in the first quarter.

“Our plan is always just like pack the line because they’re a dribble drive motion team,” Assiff said of his team’s defense. “They want to try and beat us off the dribble and drive and kick and dump down to the big man down low and for the most part we did a really good job.”

Noah Veluzat, who recently transferred from Santa Clarita Christian, made his Valencia debut with 2:48 left in the first quarter. Although he wasn’t able to score, he appeared to move seamlessly with his new teammates.

“He just comes in, you know, he’s a really good ball handler,” Assiff said. “He’s so poised. He’s a great shooter and it’s just putting us over the top, especially when he starts getting more of a rhythm with the team it’s going to be pretty dangerous for us.”

Kevin Konrad was the first to score for Valencia in the second quarter, going in for a layup that gave his team a 21-11 advantage. He made a shot a minute later to extend the lead to 23-11.

Valencia’s Kevin Konrad goes up for the layup in a playoff matchup with Santa Monica at Valencia High School Tuesday Night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Santa Monica’s Sean Newman and Quincy McGriff each sank a 3-pointer in the second quarter, but it was Nader Hussein’s buzzer 3 for Valencia that set the tone for the remainder of the game.

“I thought Nader and Kevin hit some really big shots for us when the score was close,” Bedgood said. “So like shots under pressure, shots that gave us a little bit of breathing room, that shot right before the buzzer is like, a momentum lift as you go into half. I couldn’t be prouder of those two guys. Nader and Kevin I really thought were the difference tonight for us.”

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Valencia’s momentum was slightly slowed in the third quarter, although the team stayed tough on the boards against a Santa Monica team that boasted more length than most Foothill League opponents did.

However, Valencia had outrebounded every opponent except for two this season, according to Bedgood, so the Vikes stayed tough. Assiff grabbed an offensive rebound for a basket with 30 seconds left in the third quarter to give his team a 37-27 advantage.

Valencia senior forward Josh Assiff goes up for a contested shot in a playoff matchup with Santa Monica at Valencia High School Tuesday Night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

“They’re a very big team like us, so we just had to bring it,” Assiff said. “We’re just rebounding down, just being strong and just like, do what we do.”

Trower went in for a layup to start the final quarter, then Kawakami and Jenney each hit a 3-pointer to make it 45-35 for Valencia.

Valencia drew two fouls to close out the game comfortably for the win.

The Vikings next play Temecula Valley at home on Thursday at 7 p.m.

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