The opening game of the CIF State Championships between Valencia and Gardena boys basketball began in bizarre fashion on Tuesday night.
The Panthers arrived late to Valencia High School, which pushed the tip-off to 7:30 p.m., an hour later than the Vikings are used to starting their games.
Then, after the opening jump ball, Gardena scored on their own basket to give Valencia two free points and a lead they would never relinquish on the way to a 72-59 victory.
“Very unorthodox state game, it was awkward, it just felt off. We’re creatures of habit, we warm up the same way, we talk to the guys at the same time. We’re used to playing at 6:30, now we’re playing at 7:00, then to start the game at 7:25 or whenever it was, it was super awkward,” Valencia head coach Bill Bedgood said. “We were concerned about maybe we would be a little off to start the game, but we got into a good flow.”
Sophomore Noah Veluzat got the start for senior Jayden Trower, who missed the game with an ankle injury but should be ready to go for the Vikings next game, and filled in valiantly. He got the Vikings off to a hot start with his scoring, passing and defense, logging seven points, two assists and two steals in the first quarter.
Veluzat finished the contest with 20 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals.
“Veluzat has been an incredible addition because now you have that balance, right lane, left lane, two shooters now,” Bedgood said of Veluzat. “He’s solid going to the basket. You have an extra ball handler, you have an extra shooter and he’s starting to get more comfortable.”
Junior Jake Hlywiak continued the scoring for Valencia in the second quarter, hitting two of his six 3-pointers in the frame.
Hlywiak finished with 23 points, four rebounds, one assist and two steals.
The backcourt of Hlywiak and Veluzat was the decisive factor for Valencia, combining for 43 of the team’s 72 points.
“Teams are solely focused on me, to take me away from the perimeter, but now they have to worry about him, and if they don’t know about him yet because they don’t have the film, then he’s going to show them like tonight,” Hlywiak said about playing alongside Veluzat.
Hlywiak’s six 3-pointers also gave him sole possession of the school record for most 3-pointers in a season with 92.
“It goes back to hard work in the gym when no one is watching,” Hlywiak said. “It’s just so natural. I needed six coming in to get a school record and I got six for most 3’s in a season.”
With Trower out, minutes opened up for other players, and the second unit came in and gave Valencia some much-needed firepower.
In the second quarter, sophomore Ryan Hoffman found junior Grant Kim down low for two buckets. Junior Eli Brill started the second half and used his speed to break Gardena’s press while finding his teammates for open looks. Junior Kevin Konrad used his strength to dominate on the glass and scored a couple of big buckets.
Senior Nader Hussein also added five points off the bench.
“That was the story of the game to me, those guys playing in the state playoff game with pressure,” Bedgood said of his bench.
“We were down a big contributor and I felt that each one of us had to take those extra shots to fill in for Jayden,” Hlywiak said. “Those guys off the bench distributing, I was knocking down shots, it felt good.”
Kim finished with four points and three rebounds. Brill logged three points, four rebounds, three assists and one steal and Konrad recorded four points and five rebounds.
Senior Josh Assiff recorded eight points, two rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block.
Valencia will face Cathedral Catholic of San Diego on Thursday in the second round of the state tournament. Valencia will be at home with tip-off scheduled for 7 p.m.