A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to host a CIF Southern Section championship in the Ron Palmer Pavilion slipped through Long Beach Poly’s fingers on Friday evening, as the Jackrabbits’ boys’ basketball team fell on the road at Los Altos. Defensive miscues and a slow-starting offense doomed Poly’s bid for history in a 58-56 defeat.
Poly scored just six points in the first quarter and gave up an 11-2 run after leading 51-47 late in the game.
“We turned the ball over too much in the first quarter and we were allowing them to do what they wanted to do on offense,” said Poly coach Shelton Diggs. “Our defense hasn’t been good enough this year, and it hurt us.”
The Jackrabbits’ season hasn’t ended, as they’re locks to qualify for the CIF State playoffs.
Poly was trying to climb out of a hole for almost the entire game after managing just two field goals in the first quarter, and falling behind 23-11 midway through the second quarter. Several Jackrabbits missed layups as they tried to figure out how to score around seven-footer Jazz Gardner, the Conquerors’ star sophomore, and the reliable Christian Watson opened up 0/8 to start the game.
The switch flipped for the Jackrabbits when Diggs went with a small lineup, putting in Anthony Robinson and Darron “Budda” Henry. The two combined for just four points in the game but their energy on defense immediately switched the flip for Poly. After Henry got a big steal with Poly down 12, the Jackrabbits closed the first half on a 13-5 run, with Watson coming alive and pouring in nine points in three minutes.
“Budda is always ready to play,” said Diggs. “I’ve been up and down with his minutes, but when he’s in he’s always ready to play. I was happy he was ready to come in and make something happen tonight.”
Poly shrunk the deficit to 28-24 at halftime but Los Altos came out in the third quarter and opened on a 10-0 run against Poly’s larger lineup, stretching the Jackrabbits’ defense and knocking down open 3-pointers.
After that Watson went into hyperdrive, pouring in 12 points in the third quarter to help drag the Jackrabbits back into the game. Rafael Cruz’s bucket just before the end of the third quarter tied the game at 41, which is how things stood to start the fourth.
Poly took its first lead of the game on back-to-back threes from Gabe Cummings, which put the Jackrabbits up 47-45. Watson and Jalen Pitre scored to make it 51-47 Poly with three minutes left.
But at that point Poly started settling for jumpers, and grew frustrated as Watson’s drives to the basket were met with contact but no whistles. On defense, a few costly lapses led to uncontested three’s by Los Altos and they knocked them down. Los Altos closed the game on an 11-2 run, with a buzzer-beating three by Watson after the game was out of hand narrowing the final margin.
“Credit to them for taking advantage of our mistakes and knocking down threes, they hit shots when they needed to,” said Diggs.
Poly was led by 28 points from Watson, and 13 points from Cummings. Los Altos was led by 16 points from Gardner. The Conquerors will host Rolling Hills on Wednesday in the CIF-SS Division 2AA Finals; the Jackrabbits will await their fate in the state bracket.