Coach: Loss put Highland on winning track

Coach: Loss put Highland on winning track

first_imgJeff Smith, Highland High’s boys’ basketball coach, can pinpoint the turning point in his team’s surprise season. It was Jan. 20, he says, when the struggling Bulldogs visited league favorite Lancaster – co-champions with Highland in 2003 and 2004. Highland held possession with the score tied 45-45 in the waning seconds of regulation. Senior point guard Donovan Phillips missed a 10-foot floater as the buzzer sounded, and the Bulldogs went on to lose 60-59 in double overtime. Smith insists the loss was a moral victory of sorts for Highland (16-10 overall, 8-3 Golden), which has since won six consecutive games by an average of 14 points to move to within one game of first-place Lancaster (17-9, 9-2). Highland, which can claim a share of the league title with a victory in tonight’s rematch, will play host to Lancaster at 7:30 p.m. in a regular-season finale. Highland relies on more than Anderson. The Bulldogs have three players scoring in double figures and four averaging six or more rebounds per game. Phillips (13.3 points and a team-high five assists per game) and vocal leaders Ron Holden (12.7 points and 4.7 rebounds) and Chris Hill (5.2 points and 6.4 rebounds) have made big impacts. Holden, the only returning starter from last season’s team, insists Highland can knock off Lancaster this time around. “That loss (to Lancaster) was such a heartbreaker,” Holden said. “It was tough for all of us, but we stuck together as a team. I’m excited to play them again, and I think we can beat them this time.” To upset Lancaster, Highland must limit Arnold’s productivity – 17 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, including 29 points Jan. 20 – and Javaughn Espiritt (13 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds). Lancaster, like Highland, has won its past six games. One of the streaks will end tonight. “It’s going to be a great game,” said Anderson, who scored 17 points with eight rebounds in the first meeting. “I expect it to go to triple overtime this time.” Kevin Connelly, (818) 713-3607 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card “The loss to Lancaster made us really hungry,” Smith said. “I don’t know if we would have responded as well if we ended up winning that game. Now we have a shot to split the title.” The Bulldogs’ success has surprised Smith, who did not expect to be in contention for the Golden title this year after Tomoreo Allen’s graduation last spring. Allen’s 29.5 point-per-game average last season was No. 1 in the Southern Section and No. 2 in the Southland. Even with Allen in the lineup, the Bulldogs finished 6-4 in league, three games behind champion Quartz Hill. “At the beginning of the year, I thought we were a .500 team,” Smith said. “I was hoping we would finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in league. When you lose a player like Tomoreo, that’s 30 points per game you have to find somewhere else, but this team has figured out how to win with a combination of players.” Critical has been the emergence of 6-foot-5, 225-pound junior Deno Anderson, who averages team highs of 15.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Anderson’s absence most of December with a hip-flexor injury contributed to Highland’s slow start. The Bulldogs went 5-5 without their starting center. “If the game is on the line, I want to be the guy who takes the shot,” said Anderson, who has received letters from Stanford and Harvard but aspires to play at UCLA. “I wasn’t used very much as a sophomore, but the team looks to me to carry them a lot more this year.” last_img

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