Tuesday’s season-opening battle between U-Prep and Pleasant Valley had the in-gym atmosphere of a summer league contest, but the in-game intensity of a postseason battle.
The wild COVID-delayed season meant the 6 p.m. tip at Mike Stuart Gym had half the court bathed in the spring sunshine. And while both teams were shaking off cobwebs of 14 months of no court time, the action ratcheted up as the contest wore on at the Panthers held off a late charge by the Vikings to come away with a 58-51 victory. Boys basketball coverage is presented by Redding Rancheria, a proud sponsor of Shasta County Sports.
“I felt like they were up for it, we were up for it and I do feel it had that (postseason) level of intensity,” U-Prep coach Mark Stephens said.
The two teams aren’t wholly unfamiliar with each other – they met in an AAU setting a month ago – nor are they strangers to winning. PV had won three straight Northern Section Division III titles, while U-Prep owns back-to-back Division IV crowns.
PHOTO GALLERY: See photos from U-Prep’s 58-51 win
A slow first quarter saw U-Prep lead 12-9 after the first eight minutes, but PV took its first lead nearly three minutes into the second quarter on a Jaydon Monath triple from the right wing. After the Panthers took a 22-19 lead on a Kameron Morphew bucket in the paint, the Vikings closed the half on a 8-0 run. Monath hit a 3-pointer from the left side, Noah Thomas drained a bucket and Anthony Montoya’s 3-ball with 18 seconds left put PV up 27-22 heading into half.
“With them, it’s really pick your poison,” Stephens said.
That’s why the Panthers came out of intermission in a 2-3 zone.
“They have great shooters, but they’d been successful getting it inside,” the Panthers coach said of his foe’s first-half success. “My rotation wasn’t very deep, I didn’t play a lot of kids and our bigs were tired. So the zone was our only hope to not give up layups and miss more than they made from outside.”
And it worked as PV went 1-of-5 from range in the third period.
“They’re long and made that zone defense look bigger than it was and we were settling (for 3-point shots),” PV coach Tim Keating said. “We do shoot better than that to be honest, but tonight we didn’t shoot very well.”
And while the U-Prep zone was frustrating the Vikings, Connor Gilbreath was having getting it done on the offensive side. The Panthers’ football standout scored eight of his 14 points in the third, all from inside three feet. He got a dish from Morphew before adding two more buckets on back-to-back possessions. Aiden Lipman, who had a team-high 16, dropped in a layup on a dime from Kevin Cox on a backdoor cut to pull U-Prep within two at 32-30. After a Tanner Stephens baseline drive, Gilbreath cut the lead to 35-34 on a putback of a Cox miss.
“He’s a physical specimen. He’s more of a football guy,” Mark Stephens said of Gilbreath. “But he’s a presence on the boards and around the basket and he helped us a lot tonight.”
Lipman gave U-Prep the lead on an inbounds layup and Morphew hit a top-of-the-key triple with 20 seconds left in the third for a 39-37 lead heading into the final frame.
Monath hit a pair of 3s for PV in the first two minutes of the fourth to keep the Vikings close, they trailed 46-45 after his second 3-pointer. But two buckets from Lipman set up the dagger from Cox with just over 3 minutes remaining.
“We tried to get back in it, but they were able to stretch it out from 3 to 5, 5 to 7,” Keating said.
And up 50-48 after Montoya’s left 3-ball, Cox took the ball on the perimeter with time running out on the shot clock. He squared his defender up at the top of the key, jab stepped and hit a step-back triple that boosted the lead to 53-48.
“I saw people yelling ‘Five’ and thought ‘Oh my God it’s that time already?’ ” Cox said. “So I knew I had him one-on-one and he was falling back and I took a step back and made sure I was open and it fell in.
“It was a bull’s-eye.”
Keating concurred, “That was the nail.”
In addition to Lipman’s 16, Gilbreath finished with 14, Morphew added 13 and Stephens with 10 for U-Prep.
The Vikings were led by Thomas’ 17, while Montoya and Monath each poured in 11.
Pleasant Valley – 9, 18, 10, 14 – 51
U-Prep – 12, 10, 17, 19 – 58
Vikings: Mitchell 2, Keating 2, Gomez 2, Joyce 6, Montoya 11, Monath 11, Thomas 17
Panthers: Cox 5, Stephens 10, Morphew 13, Gilbreath 14, Lipman 16
3-pointers: PV (10) – Montoya (3), Monath (3), Thomas (4); UP (4) – Cox, Lipman, Morphew (2).
Pleasant Valley 44, U-Prep 34
The Panthers saw their fourth-quarter comeback fall short as the hosts erased a nine-point deficit to start the fourth period only to watch the Vikings get clutch rebounds and free throws to retake the lead and win by 10. Girls basketball is presented by Weaver Lumber and Milgard Windows, proud partners of Shasta County Sports.
Both teams were cold from the field in their first CIF games in 14 months as PV took a 19-13 lead into the locker room and stretched it to 30-21 to start the final frame.
“I don’t think we hit a jump shot in the first half,” U-Prep coach Steven Schuster said.
But the Panthers found their stroke in the fourth as Kylie Hokanson hit a left-wing 3-ball to pull U-Prep within eight and Jordan McCoy’s old-fashioned 3-point play trimmed the lead to 32-27.
A Melanie Lindsey triple following by three free throws – the back end of two from Lindsey and two from Ashlee Kraft – gave U-Prep its first lead of the night 33-32 with 4:55 to play.
PHOTO GALLERY: See photos from the Panthers’ 44-34 loss
“I’m proud of them,” Schuster said. “It was 21-30 and we could’ve given up. There was six minutes left in the game and we fought back and got stop after stop. We took the lead just by making some jump shots and mainly containing them, so we could push in transition.”
But the Vikings retook the lead, 35-34, on a Shaley Vieg second-chance basket after a Mallory Moore offensive rebound. On the next PV possession, Mariah Letcher missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Moore grabbed the rebound and was fouled going back up. She hit the front end of the pair of freebies to put PV up 36-34.
“We know that’s going to be a constant battle (defensive rebounding),” Schuster said. “We’re going to have to battle. It’s hit or get hit. We’ve got to hit those bigger bodies and get them out of the way.”
And with time dwindling, the shots didn’t fall for U-Prep as PV closed on an 8-0 run.
“Give credit to PV, they continued to attack the offensive glass and we didn’t find bodies and it cost us second-chance shots and free throws,” the U-Prep coach said.
Pleasant Valley -8, 11, 11, 14 – 44
U-Prep – 6, 7, 8, 13 – 34
Vikings: King 2, Vichery 3, Moore 6, Letcher 7, Vieg 10, Matthews 11
Panthers: Kraft 2, Briscoe 3, Hokanson 5, Lindsey 8, Mizuta 8, McCoy 8
3-pointers: PV (2) – Letcher (2); UP (3) – Mizuta, Hokanson, Lindsey