By Jeremy Balan
Mitty phenom Aaron Gordon’s last trip to San Francisco in his high school career ended with him being mobbed by fans – and they were all wearing red and blue.
After Gordon scored 20 points, took in 10 rebounds and led the Monarchs to a 57-44 win at St. Ignatius on Saturday night, the same fans that gleefully cheered every time he missed a shot or free throw surrounded the state’s top recruit.
No gesture could better signal just how much the 6-foot-8 senior has meant to the West Catholic Athletic League in his four years and he remained on the court for 10 full minutes after the game to sign autographs and take pictures.
“He’s like The Beatles,” said Mitty head coach Tim Kennedy. “Wherever we go, he’s got a crew of people that want to take pictures and get autographs. That’s what happens when you’re on ESPN a few times. People want to hang out with you.”
Early on, however, Gordon’s San Francisco sendoff was less than ideal.
St. Ignatius (13-6, 4-5) made a point to hold on to the ball as long as possible on offensive possessions and essentially played keep way from the first-place Monarchs (15-4, 9-0) for three quarters.
The Wildcats held the ball until the final seconds of the shot clock on nearly every possession and in the first quarter, the strategy seemed to be working. St. Ignatius led 7-6 in the final minute of the opening quarter, but Gordon’s first of three dunks on the night gave the Monarchs back the lead and the Wildcats trailed the rest of the way.
“They were slowing us down, but they were also getting offensive rebounds,” Kennedy said. “I don’t know how many possessions were in the first quarter, but they were controlling tempo by getting those offensive rebounds and going 30 seconds deep in the shot clock. Each time that was a minute off the clock.”
Due to limited opportunities and the defense of forwards Andrew Vollert and Troy Rike, Gordon only had four points in the first half. With Gordon limited, guards Connor Peterson and Matt McAndrews spurred a 20-point Mitty second quarter with a combined 12 points and the Monarchs led 28-19 at the halftime break.
Even with the halftime deficit, the Wildcats stuck with their stalling offensive strategy and it largely kept them in the game.
Six third-quarter points from junior point guard Trevor Dunbar, who finished with a team-high nine, helped St. Ignatius inch a point closer after the third quarter and the Wildcats abandoned their stalling tactic in the fourth, but could only cut the lead to six points in the final eight minutes.
“We had to try something, because we got demolished last time,” St. Ignatius head coach Tim Reardon said of the Wildcats’ 71-43 loss to Mitty in San Jose on Jan. 4. “It was just a couple of mental mistakes and a couple of defensive breakdowns, but that’s going to happen. [Gordon] is one of the premier athletes on the planet Earth, not just in this league.”
Gordon made three interior passes instead of looking to score on the first three Mitty possessions in the third quarter, but hit a three-pointer with 4:35 remaining in the frame and controlled the game the rest of the way. He scored 10 of the Monarchs’ 12 points in the third quarter and 16 in the second half.
“He’s a smart basketball player and he makes the right basketball reads,” Kennedy said. “If they’re sending three guys at him, he’s going to give it up, and when we need a basket, he’s going to make a play and get it.”
With the loss, the Wildcats have now lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, but after their disappointing offensive performance against Riordan on Wednesday and the first result against Mitty, Reardon was encouraged.
“It’s hard to say this after a loss, but this was a step in the right direction,” Reardon said. “They played hard and they played smart. It was an improvement.”
Aaron Gordon – 20
Connor Peterson – 10
Matt McAndrews – 9
Brandon Farrell – 6
Two players tied with 4 points
Trevor Dunbar – 9
Julian Marcu – 8
Troy Rike – 7
Albert Waters – 6
Andrew Vollert – 5