By John Baker
Most fans were going to throw out the book on the Riordan boys basketball team anyway, considering the Crusaders activated four key transfers before Wednesday night’s West Catholic Athletic League opener at St. Ignatius.
But after the Wildcats upset Riordan 54-49, one has to wonder just who is going to be writing the new one.
The St. Ignatius win, combined with Sacred Heart Cathedral’s 58-52 victory Wednesday at Serra, makes predicting the WCAL even more impossible than usual.
In any case, the packed house that crowded the Wildcats’ gym Wednesday, at one point resulting in a 20-minute line to buy tickets, saw a self-assured St. Ignatius squad that has now won four games in seven days on its home court.
“They’re very confident right now, because they played so well in the Sand Dune tournament,” said St. Ignatius head coach Tim Reardon. “When they think it’s going to go in, there’s a better chance that it is going to go in.”
Riordan (9-2, 0-1) came in with a strong reputation even before the four transfers (Shaquille Cooper, Frankie Ferrari, Chiefy Ugbaja and Eric Vrana) — two of whom were all-Peninsula Athletic League selections last season and Vrana played for Hungary’s under-16 national team team — were put into the mix on Wednesday.
“Actually, we were a little intimidated, but we used that intimidation,” said St. Ignatius junior point guard Trevor Dunbar. “Sometimes fear can bring the best out of you and that’s what it did tonight. We played our best . . . [but] at no point did we feel comfortable.”
The Crusaders out-shot the Wildcats from the field (Riordan made 46.4 percent of its attempts, while St. Ignatius made 33.3 percent), out-rebounded them 39-34, and had more steals, but Riordan also had more turnovers (19-15) and St. Ignatius took advantage.
The most critical turnover came with about 6 minutes remaining in the game, shortly after St. Ignatius senior guard Albert Waters gave his team a 42-41 lead on a three-point play. On the ensuing Riordan possession, Dunbar stole the ball from a Riordan guard at mid-court, then beat the Crusaders to the basket for a layup.
Dunbar was a thorn in Riordan’s side throughout and finished with a game-high 19 points.
“Trevor Dunbar is such a good ball-handler. He’s a one-man press-breaker,” said Riordan head coach Rich Buckner. “We send two guys at him and he just dribbles right around them.”
St. Ignatius (10-1, 1-0) jumped out to a 7-0 lead to start the game and led by double digits after a quarter. Buckner admitted he had a bit of trouble getting his new players to mix with the established group and used frequent rotations in the first half, once substituting all five players at once to test matchups.
“It’s going to take some time meshing those new guys in, even though they’ve been practicing with us since the start of the school year,” Buckner said. “Everyone knows practice is different than the games.”
But the Crusaders settled down and got back into the game. A Bobby Arenas three-pointer gave Riordan its first and only lead of the game at 38-36 with 2:40 left in the third quarter. But just over 3 minutes later, that lead was gone when Waters went up for a layup, sank the basket while being fouled and made the free throw to give the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish.
“It was hard for us, because we had no scouting on any of Riordan’s new players,” Reardon said. “We watched them play three times and they come out with a completely different lineup on the floor, but it’s got to be hard for Buckner too, because figuring out a way to rotate those guys in is probably a nightmare for him right now.”
Trevor Dunbar – 19
Albert Waters – 12
Matt Brown – 8
Daniel MacLean-Vernic – 6
Julian Marcu – 5
Bobby Arenas – 14
Geru Mabrey – 11
Frankie Ferrari – 6
Chiefy Ugbaja – 6
Graham Gilleran – 4