By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
SOUTH PASADENA — For at least 22 years, the South Pasadena High School boys basketball team couldn’t count on a win against La Canada.
That changed Wednesday night.
Kai Matsukuma and Alireza Jabalameli scored all of the Tigers’ field goals in the fourth quarter and all but one in the third quarter, leading South Pasadena to a 41-31 Rio Hondo League win.
Matksukuma finished with a game-high 19 points and Jabalameli was aggressive from the start of the third quarter, finishing with 14 points to lead South Pasadena (10-10, 2-2).
La Canada (11-7, 3-1) missed its last seven shot attempts in the fourth quarter and was within 35-31 with 2:42 left in the game. The Spartans at that point went on a dry spell that also was marred by turnovers.
Jabalameli tipped in a basket to make it 37-31 with 2:22 left in the game. No team would score untilMatsukuma hit two free throws with 31.5 seconds left in the game. Jevon Shields hit the final two free throws, his only points of the game, with 15.9 seconds left to all but seal the win.
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The South Pasadena bench erupted in celebration not only because it accomplished an elusive feat, but because the Tigers are in the thick of a playoff spot after Blair (8-9, 2-2) lost to Temple City (10-7, 1-3) on the same night.
Nobody could remember the last time South Pasadena had beaten La Canada, but South Pasadena’s longtime athletic director Ralph Punaro said it had to had been since at least the late 1990’s.
Longtime La Canada coach Tom Hofman couldn’t remember either.
The Spartans had only one player score in double figures (Tim Kim’s 14 points) despite significant size advantage. Center Conner Boyd (6-foot-9) had open looks inside in the first half and had trouble establishing the post presence in the second half. He finished with four points on 2 of 12 shooting.
“He missed a million free throws and shots inside,” Hofman said. “We have to get him more focused on the basket. But it’s not Conner. It’s everybody.
For La Canada, sloppy practice on Tuesday carried over into the game.
“When this team is not aggressive we’re really, really bad,” Hofman said. “(South Pasadena) played harder and they deserved to win. We did not.”
Hofman said there’s no reason to panic, but it was clear he was frustrated by the lack of effort.
“We can’t continue beating ourselves because of our lack of effort,” he said. “I don’t know how you can play a game like this and not be intense.”
Offense was lacking in the first half. South Pasadena led 9-6 after the first quarter and 18-15 at the half.
Jabalameli came out aggressive in the third quarter, driving into the teeth of the Spartans defense.
“We believe in Ali,” Brown said. “We know he’s really effective, especially in pick-and-roll situations. He has a lot in his arsenal.”
Darrell Dansby’s steal and basket with 5:14 left in the game pulled the Spartans within 33-29, but they wouldn’t record another field goal the rest of the game thanks to the Tigers’ pesky defense.
“We’re trying to get them to buy into being a defensive minded basketball team,” said South Pasadena coach Tim Brown, who is in his first season at the helm. “I told them, defense wins championships, offense sells tickets.”