The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly is sponsored by Bryson Financial
If there’s any school that understands the relationship between defense and championships, it’s Long Beach Poly. And while the Jackrabbits are still three wins away from a CIF-SS Division 2A championship this season, they certainly showed the requisite defensive prowess in a suffocating 63-34 win at Upland on Friday night.
Poly made sure to lock down the paint on both ends of the floor, limiting Upland to just one made field goal inside the three-point line until the final minute of garbage time. While the Highlanders were able to connect on 7 of their 21 three-point tries, it wasn’t nearly enough to keep pace with the Jackrabbits, who seem to be hitting their stride at the perfect time.
“If they’re a good shooting team, then of course we want to run them off the line, but (Upland) wasn’t a great shooting team,” said Poly head coach Shelton Diggs. “So we wanted to make them take contested threes, rather than allow them to drive and get to the lane. So they did a really good job of that.”
Junior Jovani Ruff led the way with 20 points for Poly, keeping his finger on the pulse of the game and putting on another composed performance on the road.
“I love playing on the road. I love playing at home too, but I love when the student section is against you, everybody but your team’s against you, it’s lit,” said Ruff, who explained that Poly wanted to lock in on defense and put Upland away early. “I feel like we’ve gotten way better on defense as the season has gone on. That’s really our main focus, you know, at Poly that’s all we play his defense so I feel like we’ve gotten way better.”
Austin Unegbu knocked down three triples on his way to 15 points for the Jackrabbits while Geovanni Ofoegbu added 13. Julien Calderone was next on the score sheet with five points, hitting a couple shots during the fourth quarter.
Poly had five different players score in the opening frame as they raced out to an 18-9 lead, then shut things down even more for Upland in the second. After allowing the Highlanders to hit a pair of early threes, the ‘Rabbits locked in to hold them scoreless the rest of the quarter, forcing turnovers and challenging shots effectively when Upland dared to approach the rim.
The Jackrabbits led 30-15 at the half and never looked back, leading by as many as 36 points during the fourth quarter.
After Poly emptied the bench, Upland was able to score the final seven points of the game to make things a little closer, but Poly’s defensive effort was undeniable.
“We’ve been working on defense all year, but in the playoffs you want to make sure you’re really locking down,” Diggs said. “These guys have been really locked in. They’ve been playing defense the way we want, talking, playing with energy and all that stuff. So I’m very happy with it.”
The Jackrabbits will be back home at Ron Palmer Pavilion for the Division 2A quarterfinals, taking on Murrieta Valley on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The Nighthawks are coming off an 84-82 overtime win at Chaminade in their second round game.
“We’re feeling good, but you know, every game is gonna get tougher,” said Diggs, who already has a CIF championship under his belt. “So we’ve got to make sure we get over this game, regroup, and get ready for the next one.”