A rededication to shooting drills during this week of practice leading up to the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs is just what the doctor ordered for St. Anthony boys’ basketball. The Saints were dialed in from distance on Wednesday and shot over 40 percent from behind the 3-point arc in their 67-56 first-round win over visiting Pacifica Christian at Jack Errion Gym.
“Teams have been playing zone against us all year so we knew we had to come out and knock down shots,” St. Anthony junior Jaayden Bush said. “You can’t beat a good team without knocking down shots and they’re a very good team.”
Bush led St. Anthony with 17 points after making a trio of 3-pointers in the first quarter. Junior Kaih Williams scored 10 of his 15 points in the third quarter while junior Akoye Hudson chipped in nine points. Junior Elijah Price and senior George Ashley both scored eight points. The Saints made 10 shots from 3-point range.
“We shot the crap out of the ball and we’ve struggled shooting all year,” St. Anthony coach Allen Caveness said. “We worked on it all week. I’m happy we won but I’m really happy for them to see the fruit of the work we put in. We’ve had a bunch of guys coming in at 6 a.m. to get shots up.”
The Saints came out with a lot of defensive pressure and forced 10 turnovers in the first half while using the energy provided by a small but boisterous crowd.
“We love the energy and all of the support from everybody at our school,” Bush said.
St. Anthony took its time breaking down the Pacifica zone and led 13-11 after the first quarter.
Both offenses woke up in the middle of the second quarter as Tanner Deal and Houston Mallette combined to score 30 points for Pacifica in the game. The Tritons kept pace with the Saints, but Hudson’s pull up jumper gave St. Anthony a 33-29 halftime lead.
Williams and St. Anthony put the game away in the third quarter thanks in part to an 11-2 run. The Saints led 51-36 after the third quarter, and the lead stayed around 10 points down the stretch while the Tritons ran out of gas.
“I thought we kind of wore them down a little bit,” Caveness said. “We wanted to speed them up with continued pressure.”
Bush was key to sealing the victory late with efficient ball control. There were multiple possessions that featured him dribbling down the clock and then finding a teammate for a good open look. When he stole the ball in the final minutes and headed to the free throw line, Bush let out a primal scream at center court.
“My teammates work so hard for me and I love working hard for everybody else,” Bush said. “Everybody gives it their all, one to 13, from player to coach… that scream represents what they all do.”
“He’s probably the best leader this program has had in my seven years here,” Caveness said. “He makes my job easier because of his maturity. I’ve let him go to call his own plays… His feel and IQ are really high. I’m happy for him because of how much he puts into it.”
St. Anthony (10-3) will travel to Windward for the second round on Friday night.
“They’re really good and well-coached,” Caveness said of Windward. “It’s going to be tough to go into their building to steal one.”