BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
Independence coach Stan Davis doesn't have a fancy name for it, like "the fastest team in the West," or "32 minutes of hell," but his Falcons play a style that's hard to emulate -- and even harder to beat.
The latest team to figure that out was Fresno-Washington Union on Thursday night in the Garces Holiday Hoops Challenge quarterfinals. The Falcons cruised to a 57-29 victory with a fearless, body-banging, ball-tipping style that led to nine steals and a 43-24 edge in rebounds.
"I don't know what you call it -- sometimes maybe we give them 16 minutes of you-know-what," Davis said. "We'd like to think it's 32. But we're getting there."
Eleven Falcons scored, led by eight points apiece from Derek Check, Stephen Ntui, Jaelin Roberts and Malcolm Johnson, a freshman who also had 12 rebounds.
"Some of our star players are still slumping a little bit, but we're shooting better with the other guys," Davis said. "We were in foul trouble tonight so we had to go deeper than we wanted to earlier, but the guys stepped up."
Next, in tonight's semifinals, Independence (13-1) has a chance to avenge its only loss: A 61-54 overtime defeat to Bakersfield from the semifinals of the Lloyd Williams tournament at North in which the Falcons blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead.
The Falcons and Drillers will tangle again -- with two Southwest Yosemite League meetings yet to come -- at 8:45 tonight in the second semifinal.
"We've still got to find a way to break them," Davis said. "BHS does a lot of things well. It should be fun. Our guys should be looking forward to it.
In the first semifinal, at 7:20, Garces will play Tulare-Mission Oak. The host Rams survived a 56-54 victory over El Segundo when Tim Pena tipped in an errant Rashad Jackson shot with less than a second left, calling to mind Lorenzo Charles' game-winner for North Carolina State in the 1983 national championship.
"Rashad was trying to draw a foul, and I don't know what happened, if he got hit or what, but the shot was way off," Garces coach Gino Lacava said. "But there's Timmy, in true North Carolina State fashion, in the right place at the right time."
Not many of Jackson's shots were off. He scored 21 points on the strength of four 3-pointers. Pena added 14, and sophomore Sheldon Croney flirted with a triple-double, scoring 9 points with 9 rebounds and 8 assists.
"He did it all," Lacava said. "It's hard to argue with a game like that."
Mission Oak (11-2) needed its own survival to reach the semifinals. The Hawks trailed Frontier by 10 at halftime and were still down five early in the fourth quarter when they exploded offensively, scoring 26 points over the final six minutes of the game to down Frontier 64-51.
In the other quarterfinal, B.J. Shelton had 16 points and Stephon Newsome 13 for Bakersfield, which outlasted East 68-57 despite some highlight-reel lob dunks by Fatai Eke in the final minutes. Eke spent most of the game on the bench in foul trouble as the Drillers held a comfortable lead for most of the second half.