Some high school basketball teams can play with a free-wheeling style, but struggle in a 5-on-5 set. Some run plays to perfection, but can’t get up and down with an athletic opponent. What makes the Desert Christian Academy boys’ team so tough to beat is that they can do both.
That was on display in their Tuesday night quarterfinal victory over Providence (Santa Barbara) which the Conquerors won 65-55. It was an impressive win for DCA, ranked third in Division 5A over the sixth-ranked Patriots.
Desert Christian Academy used its fast-paced, pressing attack to build a lead, and then scored on some well-run set plays when a gritty Providence team cut the lead to four points in the fourth quarter.
The secret to being able to do both?
“Seniors,” head coach Matt Garrison said. “When you’ve got six, seven seniors on the team, they’ve been really good all year on making those quick adjustments and changes during the game. We played hard, played well and competed the entire game, and that’s against a smart, well-coached team.”
The Conquerors led by 11 at the half, and the lead stayed around that margin until Providence put some stops and buckets together, capped by a 3-pointer from Gianni Madrigal, to close the game to 54-50 with about four minutes to play.
That’s when coach Garrison had his team slow down and run a set play called thumb’s up.
It involved talented point guard Derick Rodriguez giving up the ball at the top of the key and then streaking around a double-screen to pop out on the left win for an open 3. It worked to perfection, and more importantly, Rodriguez swished the shot to put the Conquerors up by 7. Thumb’s up, indeed.
On the next possession the long, active arms of Judah Brown forced a steal, which he took the length of the court for a lay-in. After a defensive stop, Zachary Devane got a lay-up off of another set play. That quick 7-0 run gave the Conquerors a 61-50 lead with two minutes left and effectively iced the game.
“We haven’t been in a close game for a while, and we maybe let them go a little too long, just playing, so we went to some sets on offense and that worked,” Garrison said. “We knew if the game was slow it would be to their advantage and fast it would be to our advantage, but we were able to get some points of set plays when we needed them.”
Another thing that makes the Conquerors a tough out is their balanced scoring. The defense can’t key on one player and Rodriguez does a great job of controlling the game from the point guard spot.
Brown led the way with 18 points including a beautiful putback slam in the second quarter that got the loud home crowd off its feet. Rodriguez added 13 points, and Ananias Bullock and Ben Roethler both had 10 points.
Next up for the Conquerors (20-5) will be another home game on Friday against AGBU/Canoga Park, the 10th-ranked team in the division. Canoga Park will be coming off a very impressive win, having trounced the No. 2-seeded Apple Valley Christian 66-48.
What will it take to make the school’s first CIF final since the championship team of 2009?
“I’d like to establish a little more of an inside game than we did tonight, make our free throws, and just execute a little better on offense and defense,” Garrison said. “All the little things — stay out of foul trouble — will make the difference.”