By Jeremy Balan
The University boys basketball team’s two best players combined to score a single point in the first half against visiting Mission on Tuesday night and that wasn’t a problem.
The Red Devils still led 45-30 at the half and cruised to a 75-63 victory because they may have the deepest group in head coach Randal Bessolo’s eighth year with the program.
Senior captains Chris Mah and Harold Getz were 0-of-6 from the field in the first half, but the key to University’s success this year will be that the Red Devils (7-1) can withstand a player or two on a cold streak — because odds are, someone else will be hot.
Five University players scored in double figures, mostly because each had a stretch where it seemed they could not miss.
Early on, it was senior guard James Burton, who came off the bench to score all of his 15 points (on five three-pointers) in an eight-minute span in the first and second quarters. Right before halftime, it was senior forward Will Carroll, who scored 11 of his 16 points in the second frame and made all five of his shots from the floor to spur a 27-point University quarter. In the third, Getz came alive to score eight of his 11 points.
The only consistent scoring threat was 6-foot-5 junior forward Jack Gale, who scored a team-high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
“Different guys are hot on different nights or hot in different quarters, but fortunately we have enough of them,” Bessolo said. “Even if one or two are off, we still have weapons.”
That luxury of depth is not one that the struggling Bears (0-7) have. Standout senior point guard Antoine Porter has been the leading scorer for the Bears in every game this season and the trend continued Tuesday.
Porter scored a game-high 22 points on 9-of-21 shooting from the floor (3-of-7 from three-point range) and constantly had to fight through University double-teams that often started near midcourt, but no other Mission player finished in double figures.
“He has a target on his chest and he embraces that,” said Mission head coach Arnold Zelaya. “It’s up to his teammates to take some of that attention off and until they make plays, that target is going to stay there.”
Porter kept the Bears relatively close throughout, but could not overcome the University barrage from three-point range.
The Red Devils hit 13-of-34 shots from beyond the arc and were 6-of-11 in the crucial second quarter, which gave them a comfortable double-digit lead they would not relinquish.
The only thing that really slowed down the Red Devils was themselves. University led by as many as 19 points in the fourth quarter, then inserted mostly substitutes and slowed the game down.
While Mah didn’t factor much in the scorebook (his only points came on a pair of free throws in the third quarter), he was invaluable in the high-pressure, high-speed scheme that both teams employ. The senior point guard was a calming influence under Mission’s dizzying pressure and frequently hit University’s shooters for wide-open looks.
“Chris was everything for us in that game, because it was about handling pressure and finding the open man,” Bessolo said. “Chris could have arguably been our MVP in that game and only scored two points. He understands that he’s the leader and the distributor, and a lot of guys scoring points is a direct attribute to him doing a good job.”
Depth will continue to be an issue for the Bears, which have lost seven players from their 13-man summer roster (including four starters) for disciplinary and academic reasons. Porter is averaging over 20 points per game, but no other Mission players are averaging more than seven.
“These guys can play,” Zelaya said. “They just need to understand they can play. It’s a confidence thing. All these guys can play. We have basketball players on this team.”
Jack Gale – 19
Will Carroll – 16
James Burton – 15
Harold Getz – 11
David Medoff – 11
Antoine Porter – 22
Anthony Bonds – 8
Ronald Murillo – 8
Joji Kurotani – 7
Two players tied with 6 points