By Miguel A. Melendez Staff Writer
PASADENA — It’s becoming clear the longer the Muir High School boys basketball team remains undefeated in the Pacific League the more difficult it’ll become to keep it that way.
No surprise they’ve become the new team to beat, the Mustangswere given a formidable challenge by Burbank, which led by four in the third quarter before Muir reverted back to its style, swarming the visiting Bulldogs with a relentless defense that resulted in a 54-42 win Wednesday night.
Muir (20-1, 9-0) can’t simply count on its talent and unparalleled speed to keep it atop the league standings, and the Mustangs got a crash course of that against Burbank (11-11, 3-6), which also led by four at the half against Pasadena earlier this week before losing.
“I agree,” Muir coach Gamal Smalley said. “I think team’s are getting up for Muir becuase we’ve had a little bit of success. We have to fight through our fatigue.”
That Muir had finals earlier in the day isn’t an excuse, but the early-school release meant the Mustangs had a long break before tipoff.
“They’re out at 12:30, lounging around for most of the day,” Smalley said. “But we have to play through it and recognize it won’t get easy. Nobody is going to give up on us.”
Muir got off to a solid start, quickly building a 9-0 lead and its defense limiting Burbank to 0 for 6 shooting on its first eight possessions while forcing them to commit four turnovers. Dion Nelson’s 3-pointer off a Bulldogs turnover made it 16-2 with 1:48 left in the game. Alex Voskanian scored the only points for Burbank, on a putback to make it 9-2 and two three-pointers in the final minute. Burbank shot 3 of 14 in the first quarter.
Muir’s Brian Carrier and Nelson scored the only points in the second quarter while the Mustangs were burned with dribble penetration and kick-outs.
Burbank took the lead on a Voskanian 3-pointer with 2:39 left in the third quarter to make it 31-28. Caine Brown’s layup made it 33-28 and the Bulldogs led, 36-34 heading into the fourth quarter.
Muir went into a zone late in the third quarter but it went into full effect in the fourth quarter. Burbank found it tough adjusting to the zone, committing seven turnovers in the fourth, four of which came inthe first minute that saw no shot attempts from the Bulldogs.
Jelani Mitchell, who finished with 13 points and four steals, stole the inbounds pass on the opening play in the fourth and tied it with a fastbreak layup, 36-36. On the ensuing play, it was Tevin Polk making a steal. He scored in similar fashion to make it 38-36, a lead the Mustangs would only add to. Burbank’s Brown on the next play was called for a foul trying to position himself against Polk. Brown’s frustration was evident as he pushed Polk from behind to give Muir possession. Brown fouled out with 3:45 in the fourth quarter and the Bulldogs suddenly went away from driving in, looking for the outside shot that never came.
Andre Frazier played a big hand in forcing Burbank outside. He became a force in the middle and finished with five blocks along with eight points.
“Once we went into the zone he was able to be the shot blocker,” Smalley said. “He’s capable of doing that. That’s a big weapon, as an eraser, so to speak.”
Nelson showed no ill effects of a sprained ankle suffered
on Monday, finishing with 12 points.