By Jeremy Balan
It’s only a 4-mile drive from the Sunset to Phelan Avenue, but the St. Ignatius boys basketball team’s matchup with Riordan on Wednesday night was still a road game in the West Catholic Athletic League – and the Wildcats have been far from road warriors this season.
St. Ignatius struggled offensively all night at Crusader Forum, had a season-low point total and dropped to 0-4 on the road in league play after a 42-33 Riordan win.
A lot of St. Ignatius’ struggles had to do with Riordan’s tight perimeter defense, which limited the Wildcats (13-5, 4-4) to 30 percent shooting overall and just 14 shots from the floor in the second half. In the fourth quarter, needing to cut into the Riordan lead, the Wildcats didn’t attempt a shot until there was 4:15 remaining.
“That’s crazy – just  shots. You should have that many in a quarter,” said St. Ignatius head coach Tim Reardon. “I don’t feel like we had more than 10 turnovers in the second half, but we just didn’t get any second-chance shots in the whole game.”
The Wildcats did have only two offensive rebounds, but many of their offensive issues stemmed from the Crusaders’ (12-6, 3-5) standout defensive effort on St. Ignatius point guard Trevor Dunbar. Riordan junior guard Jiday Ugbaja was tasked with guarding Dunbar for most of the game (other than the third quarter, when Geru Mabrey took over when Ugbaja was in foul trouble) and held Dunbar to just three points.
“The plan was to lock Dunbar down, but that’s way easier said than done,” said Riordan head coach Rich Buckner. “You don’t lock down Trevor, but we really concentrated on keeping him in front of us. You have to maintain your stance and stay in front of him, because once you reach, he’s gone.”
Dunbar wasn’t the only guard that struggled to penetrate against the Crusaders, and other than two driving layups from senior Albert Waters, the Wildcats were scoreless in the paint. After St. Ignatius hit three three-pointers to jump out to a 11-6 advantage midway through the first quarter, Riordan took back the lead in the second and led 21-17 at the half, then steadily pulled away after the break.
The St. Ignatius offense came almost exclusively from its shooting guards. Waters, Matt Brown and Tristan Wentworth all had eight points apiece.
“We did a terrible job of getting it into our post guys and sometimes doing that opens up our perimeter guys,” Reardon said.
The Crusaders weren’t much better offensively and didn’t have a player score in double figures, but the chemistry issues that plagued Riordan in the first round of WCAL play seemed to be limited. The Crusaders have appeared to settle into defined roles and most in the Riordan rotation had moments of good basketball, but none sustained it individually.
Along with Jiday’s defense against Dunbar, the junior also shared the game’s scoring lead with nine points, and his cousin, Chiefy Ugbaja, largely kept the Crusaders afloat in the first half, with all of his eight points and seven rebounds coming before halftime.
In the second half, it was also a pair of Riordan juniors that did most of the scoring. In the third quarter, it was Bobby Arenas, who scored seven of the Crusaders’ nine points in the frame. In the fourth quarter, it was shooting guard Frankie Ferrari, who scored six points in the final eight minutes after being held scoreless in the first three.
Throw in solid defensive performances from senior center Graham Gilleran and junior forward Zach Masoli – who scored just two points, but had three assists and three offensive rebounds – and the Crusaders played a complete game without a standout individual.
“In these past two games, our guys are starting to understand the roles we think they are best in,” Buckner said. “It’s not a bunch of individual guys right now. We’re coming together as a team and everyone is seeing that – hey, I might not get my points, but I can always rebound, I can always defend, I can always box out.”
Bobby Arenas – 9
Jiday Ugbaja – 9
Chiefy Ugbaja – 8
Frankie Ferrari – 6
Geru Mabrey – 6
Matt Brown – 8
Albert Waters – 8
Tristan Wentworth – 8
Trevor Dunbar – 3
Jason Quanico – 3