The Valencia boys basketball team took to its home court on Thursday night to face Cathedral Catholic of San Diego in the second round of the CIF State Championships.
The Vikings shook off a sluggish first quarter to come from behind and defeat the Dons 74-62 to advance to the regional semifinals.
Cathedral Catholic was on fire in the first quarter, hitting contested shots and working the offensive glass. However, Valencia stayed within reach and never let the game slip away behind a solid first quarter from senior Richard Kawakami, who had four points and five rebounds in the first eight minutes.
“Cathedral did a great job of controlling the tempo, so the adjustment we had to make was basically go back to playing like we play, get to running and everything for us always starts on the defensive side,” Valencia assistant coach Alan Woskanian said. “Defensively we were lacking a little bit and Cathedral hit some good shots, they played a great first half. Moving the ball well and knocking down jumpers but for us, at halftime, the adjustment was getting back to what we do best which is tempo.”
Trailing by eight at the end of the initial quarter, sophomore Noah Veluzat and senior Josh Assiff took over, with the former scoring seven points in the second quarter and the latter scoring 10 points.
Veluzat finished with 20 points and five rebounds for the second straight game while adding two assists and one steal.
“Everyday I’m getting more confident, more comfortable with these guys,” Veluzat said. “They are doing a great job of including me and I’ve got great players around me so it makes my job a lot easier.”
Assiff carried the bulk of the load for the Vikings in the first 16 minutes, logging 12 points, seven rebounds and two assists.
He finished the game with 19 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and one steal.
“They have two big guys and I knew I needed to bring it, so I came with that mentality. I’ve done this before, I’ve put up big numbers in the playoffs before, I’ve gotten better and I know that I’m going to continue to improve,” Assiff said. “I always come out with the mentality that we need to win and protect the home floor.”
“Josh and Richard were outstanding down low tonight. Richard carried us down low we really needed him to guard (Obinna Anyanwu) and he did a great job on him and Josh, that was probably one of the best games he played all year in my opinion,” Woskanian said. “He was boxing out, rebounding, scoring when we needed it, making the right decisions all game.”
Trailing by six with just a few seconds left on the clock before halftime, junior Jake Hlywiak, who had missed his first four 3-pointers, netted a shot from downtown at the buzzer and brought the deficit to three heading into intermission.
The shot seemed to swing the momentum in the Vikings’ favor as they locked down on defense and held the Dons to only four points in the third quarter.
Hlywiak finished the night with 11 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals.
“I’ve never been more excited after a 3 honestly. I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to get it off in time, released it, then the buzzer went off and it went in,” Hlywiak said. “It felt amazing and we’re only down three now. We were able to close the gap and took that momentum into the second half.”
“We made some great adjustments in the second half and I think Cathedral kind of got stunned by that,” Woskanian said. “We were running, getting transition baskets, easy baskets, and they fuel each other. The defense fuels the offense and the offense fuels the defense.”
Valencia took its first lead with six minutes in the third quarter off a Veluzat 3-ball, eventually building a 10-point cushion by the end of the frame and carried the double-digit lead the rest of the way.
Grant Kim provided a spark off the bench, particularly in the second half, finishing with six points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Kawakami logged a double-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and added two assists.
Valencia will meet Rancho Cucamonga for the second time in two weeks in the regional semifinals on Saturday.
The Cougars bested the Vikings in the CIF Southern Section semifinals, but Valencia is looking to take that experience and use it as an advantage when the two teams meet again.
“It feels like a revenge game, but for us really it’s just another game. We’re going to go out there and stay focused,” Woskanian said. “We are going to remind them that you don’t get too many opportunities in life to right a wrong, and this is definitely one of those opportunities, and if we continue playing defense I think we’re on the right track.”