West Ranch Wildcats boys’ basketball’s CIF run ended on Friday night after a defensive battle on the road with the Harvard-Westlake Wolverines.
Harvard-Westlake won the game 59-50, holding West Ranch to its lowest scoring total in three years.
The Wolverines (30-2) took over the game in the second quarter on an 11-1 run. Harvard-Westlake never lost the lead en route to victory, snapping the Wildcats’ 16-game win streak.
Santa Clarita Valley native Brady Dunlap led the Wolverines with a game-high 18 points, playing against some of his childhood friends in West Ranch jerseys.
“It’s all love and then we get on the court and it’s not,” Dunlap said. “Then we’re coming at each other’s throats. It’s always a battle and super fun. There’s a lot of smack talking but it’s all out of love. And I love those guys and it’s a great relationship. They’ve beaten me. I’ve beaten them. It’s just basketball. It’s a game at the end of the day. And those are all my brothers for life.”
The teams were deadlocked early and finished the first quarter squared up at 10-10 before the Wolverines pulled away in the first half.
The Cats (29-2) jumped back into the game after point guard Darrell Morris’ driving picked up some much-needed buckets to pull within one point. However, Harvard-Westlake capitalized on any Wildcat mistakes, including three straight West Ranch turnovers to end the half.
Four turnovers halfway through the third quarter hurt the Wildcats again but the team managed to finish the quarter within eight points of the Wolverines. Cats head coach Jeff Bryant knew the turnovers could cost the team a close game like this one.
“The biggest difference maker was turnovers,” Bryant said. “We talked about valuing the basketball and limiting turnovers because they make you pay for your mistakes, and we did a bad job at it.”
The West Ranch student section and crowd made its presence felt, and nearly stole home court advantage. Wolverine team parent and seven-time NBA champion Robert Horry did his best to fire up the crowd before the final quarter.
“It’s weird, our team is so used to playing without a crowd and we learned from last game they need our fans. They need them to push them through those tough moments so we collectively as parents said ‘We gotta get together and just be rowdy.’ So, that’s what I just tried to do to get them going…I was so proud of our student section. Sometimes they can sit on their hands but tonight, they were more up and at ‘em.”
A quick Morris rebound and push led to a bucket from Isaiah Fields and cut the deficit down to five points. The Cats were forced to finish the game without their point guard, after Morris fouled out on the next play.
After Dunlap hit a 3-pointer, West Ranch center Jazz Gardner cut the lead back to five points with a tough putback score for the and-one.
Gardner finished with eight points and as many rebounds, while James Evans led the Cats with 15 points.
The West Ranch offense was a little stagnant as the team was looking for favorable matchups. However, the ball seemingly kept going in the opposite direction of reigning Foothill League Player of the Year Andrew Meadow.
Meadow finished with five points.
Meanwhile on the other side, point guard Trent Perry was having no issues getting everyone involved. Perry totaled 12 points, eight assists and four steals for the Wolverines.
The Wildcats found some scores in crunch time but time ran out on any chance of a comeback and Harvard-Westlake emerged victorious.
“Defensively, we wanted to speed them up, be physical and keep them off the offensive glass,” Bryant said. “We failed in all categories. Offensively we wanted to play inside out and take advantage in the post. That didn’t work out too well.”
The win didn’t end up meaning anything for the Wolverines, as St. John Bosco secured a spot in the Open Division title game with a win over St. Bernard. However, the Wolverines feel back on track and will prepare to play for a state championship.
“We knew we were going to come in today and handle our business for one potentially get in the open Division Championship, which we didn’t do, but for two to get the seeding to hold some home court advantage going to state,” Dunlap said. “Like our coach said, ‘State has a bigger banner on the wall’ and our names are on it. So that’s where our focus has completely shifted. CIF was a big deal obviously, but we’re past that riding into state.”
West Ranch’s season will also now divert straight into the state tournament. Both teams will find out their next steps when the CIF releases the State Championship brackets on Sunday, Feb. 26.
“We’re aiming for obviously one game at a time but our goal is to win at all,” Dunlap said. “That’s who we are. We dropped one on Tuesday and that was uncharacteristic of us. We’re not gonna be happy with two wins in state. We’re going for it all and we’re going for the trophy. That’s where all of our heads and mindsets are, and I’m excited to get to work on Tuesday.”