Canyon Cowboys boys’ basketball is headed to the playoffs with a simple winning recipe: smothering defense.
Canyon took down its rival Hart on Friday on the road, 57-49, thanks to that physical defense, which limited the Indians to just three points in the second quarter.
Hart (14-13, 4-8) came close to jumping back in front but missed free throws late in the game killed any chance of a comeback. The Indians went 1-for-9 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter and coincidentally lost by the same amount of free throws missed.
The Cowboys (17-10, 6-6) trailed by two heading into the second. Neither team could find a bucket until Hart senior Riley Scott hit a 3-pointer after two and a half minutes. Scott’s three points were the only ones Hart could find in the second with Canyon’s defenders swarming the ball.
The Cowboys closed out the quarter on a 12-0 run with most of the scoring coming from forward Chigozie Osuji, who scored five of his 10 points in the run.
The team gives all credit to coach Ali Monfared for their defensive prowess.
“It’s just repetition every day in practice,” said Canyon junior Noah Madrigal. “Our coach holds us to a high standard and we have to follow that. He does a really good job of pushing us on defense so I have to give coach props for that.”
Hart senior Deven Strong is always the focus of opposing defenses. Strong, a three-level scorer, had a strong start to the game and then fueled Hart in the third with some instant offense. Strong crossed over his defenders and found space for either an open shot or a layup, which led to a solo 6-1 run.
Strong’s scoring and back-to-back 3-pointers from Scott highlighted the third quarter but Hart just couldn’t cut the deficit to zero.
Madrigal was yet to score through three quarters but lifted his team to victory in the fourth. Madrigal scored eight points and added two steals, all in the fourth quarter, to ice Hart.
“That’s our rival, so it’s a great feeling,” Madrigal said. “We needed to win to make the playoffs so we did everything we could. It was all teamwork and hustle.”
Sophomore Isaac Yuhico also refound his rhythm in the fourth quarter. Yuhico exploded in the first for 10 quick points but was held scoreless until the final few minutes, when he added the remainder of his 16 points.
Canyon’s usual leading scorer Eric Kubel was face-guarded throughout the night and finished with just nine points in the win. Kubel is no stranger to tearing through defenses but the Cowboys winning games without the forward carrying the load is a good sign for the team as it heads into the playoffs as the fourth automatic seed in the Foothill League.
The Cowboys looked like they’d be a distance away from the playoffs earlier in the season. The team started the year 4-7 but found its groove after winning the Temple City tournament.
“We’re feeling great,” Yuhico said. “There’s so many games we should have won earlier in the season. We were 4-7 at the beginning of the season. Now we’re 17-10. We just picked it up after that Temple City tournament. Everything just went up for us.”
The Cowboys head into the postseason next week. Hart, Golden Valley and even Castaic still have cases for an at-large bid for their respective playoff divisions. All three teams finished above .500 overall thanks to their impressive non-league records.
Canyon now embarks on its third straight playoff push. Last season, the team won its playoff opener in Division 3AA before being bounced by St. Pius X-St. Matthias, the eventual CIF champion that is now in Division 1.
The Cowboys are excited for a potential playoff run and with so many juniors and sophomores on the squad, the future could be looking even brighter.
“The season is far from over,” Yuhico said. “We’re gonna do our best to stick to the game plan that coach gives us and just try and make it as far as we can in playoffs.”