Grizzly boys’ basketball (5-1, 2-0) won its fourth straight game with a 74-65 Foothill League win over Hart (2-3, 0-1) on Friday.
Golden Valley got scoring from up and down its roster. The team is no stranger to having nearly every player on its 13-man roster score for the selfless Grizzlies.
Senior Andrew Ezenwa led the team with 23 points, followed by Joseph Miller with 20. Deon Lopez also had a great outing, finishing with 16 points and six rebounds.
The Grizzlies know the importance of starting strong and did just that. Golden Valley had to climb its way out of a 15-0 hole earlier this season in a win over Rio Mesa. The group was able to put the Indians in nearly the same spot after an impressive 14-2 run to start the game.
Grizzlies head coach Chris Printz praised his team’s start but wants to see his team continue playing with a fire under them for four quarters.
“It was nice to start a little better, the start kind of lulled into a false sense of security,” said Printz. “We had some spurts in the second half but did not consistently play well.”
Hart slowly crept back into the game but could never take away the Grizzly lead.
Devon Strong was phenomenal for the shorthanded Indians, as the guard poured in a game-high 30 points.
The Grizzlies would battle in the second as Hart’s offense got rolling. Indians’ forward Jack Oldhafer was a big threat from outside the arc and kept knocking in timely 3-pointers to keep Hart alive.
Oldhafer finished with 12 points and five boards.
It was nearly a one-point game before halftime but Grizzlies forward Jayden Bryant sunk a 2-foot jump shot to put his team up 34-31 at the half.
Golden Valley started the second half nearly as hot as the first, kicking off with an 11-2 run to get the lead back up to double digits.
“I think what impresses me about my group is that the maturity showed up,” said Printz. “It’s a Foothill League game, there’s gonna be runs, emotions, calls that both teams have questions about, but my guys kept playing and did what we had to do.”
Tom Kelly has coached Hart for over two decades and knows in most games there are going to be runs on both sides of the court. The Indians are mentally prepared to stay in the game if they or their opponents were to take a sizable lead.
“We said before the game started that whether we get up 10 or they get up 10, the game is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Kelly. “So weather any storms, weather any runs they have, and we’ll settle down and play.”
The fourth quarter was back and forth. Every time one team would score, the other would answer, making Hart unable again to cut the gap.
Ezenwa started scoring at will, showing little to no issues getting to the basket. Strong and senior forward Elias Bookhart would keep scoring but Ezenwa’s buckets would be the difference in the end. Hart ramped up the pressure to try to make some plays late but a game-clinching steal from Tristan Tiu sealed it for Golden Valley.
Bookhart finished with 10 points and nine rebounds.
The Grizzlies love to move the ball around, find the hot hand or the open shooter. The group had nine players score on Friday, just the way Printz likes it.
“We try to drive, kick, push the ball real fast,” said Miller. “We’re a quick team, you know, a lot smarter than these other teams out here. So, we try to drive, move the ball fast. Just take a lot of shots. Push the tempo of the game.”
Miller also believes the team’s accountability has been a huge reason for their early success this season. The team has hard practices and conversations but the group’s unity has kept Golden Valley moving forward.
“It’s a great strength of ours,” said Printz. “This is perhaps the closest team I’ve ever coached. They spend so much time on the court and off the court it’s a neat group in that way.”
Kelly will also work with his team on playing a consistent four quarters of basketball. The Indians had plenty of positives from this game to look back but will look to fill in the blanks for the rest.
“Well, we need the start to be like the finish,” said Kelly. “I think the kids were nervous before the game. It’s their first Foothill League game. It’s in a loud crowd with cheerleaders, a band and music going. It’s a fun environment but if you’ve never been in it, it’s a little testy.”
It’s still early in the season but only the Grizzlies and West Ranch remain undefeated in league play. The two won’t meet until early in 2023 but Golden Valley is off to the start they wanted to have while being nowhere near as good as they can be.
Hart will be back in action at home on Tuesday when the team welcomes Saugus (3-3, 1-1) at 6:30 p.m.
Golden Valley will return to the court on Tuesday in an away league showdown with Canyon (8-2, 0-1) at 6:30 p.m.
“We’re a good team, we have great chemistry,” said Ezenwa. “Our main job is to make the playoffs and then hopefully get the chip. That’s the whole point, that’s our point of view, our whole focus.”