BY STEPHEN LYNCH Special to The Californian
The goal for the Independence boys basketball team all season long has been to get better every game.
The Falcons believe if they do that, the wins will come.
It has certainly worked out that way. On Tuesday night Independence won for the 20th straight time, downing visiting Bakersfield High 49-42 in a hard-fought Southwest Yosemite League battle.
Trailing 25-22 at halftime, the Falcons (24-1, 7-0 SWYL) opened the third quarter with a 12-0 run to seemingly take control.
However, BHS (14-11, 2-5 SWYL) fought back to tie things on a pair of Anthony Wright free throws with 6:12 remaining in the game.
The deadlock didn't last long as Independence answered back 19 seconds later with a Derek Check 3-pointer and then quickly pulled away for good.
"I'm real happy," Independence coach Stan Davis said. "We knew this was going to be a tough one. They have so much pride. We knew that they were going to come after us hard. We did a pretty good job of holding our ground and not giving into it because they were definitely the aggressor for a big chunk of the game."
Malcolm Johnson had 13 points and 10 rebounds and DJ Reed added 10 points and 10 rebounds for Independence, which shot just 43-percent (18-of-42) from the field but made up for it by pressuring BHS into 26 turnovers.
"It's a very big win," Johnson said. "We knew that they were going to come out real hard and we were going to have to push it. We did."
Steven Contreras led BHS with 13 points. The 6-foot-5 senior did most of his damage during the Drillers' late comeback, scoring 8 points in the fourth quarter.
"(Independence) made the plays when they needed to," BHS coach Greg Burt said. "It was a physical game both ways. They're a really good team. It's tough to come in their gym and beat them."
Brandon Shelton scored 10 points for BHS, all of them during a back-and-forth first half that featured six lead changes.
Shelton had six of the Drillers' nine first-quarter points, among them a ferocious two-hand dunk off a nice feed from Latrelle Marchbanks.
Later, Shelton gave BHS its largest lead of the game, 23-18, with 2:27 left in the first half.
The Drillers still led by five until Independence got a big momentum boost heading into the locker room when Brandon Robinson raced down the court after a BHS turnover and made a layup with one second left on the clock.
The Falcons, whose only loss this season came at the hands of BHS, amped up its swarming full court press to start the second half.
BHS committed 8 turnovers in the third quarter, leading to several Independence transition baskets.
When the Drillers did hold onto the ball, they couldn't get any shots to drop. BHS made only two field goals in the third period.
"We just went out there and played hard," Johnson said. "They got close to us at one point but we pulled the defense out and got the win."
Tuesday's victory put Independence in firm control of the Southwest Yosemite League title race, with three games remaining.
"All we can do is take care of each game at a time," Davis said. "If we'll do that and keep getting better we're not going to allow the pressure to get to us."