By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
LA CANADA-FLINTRIDGE – Calm, cool and league champions.
That is what the South Pasadena High School boys basketball team can claim after scoring a 44-38 victory over host La Canada to clinch at least a share of its first Rio Hondo League title in 21 years.
The Tigers made nearly all of their free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter to beat the Spartans, who have had a virtual lock on the league title the past 20 years. La Canada has won the last two titles and 10 of the last 11.
The Tigers made 10 of 12 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter.
“You have to make them when they count,” South Pasadena coach Timothy Brown said. “I tell the guy that it’s not free time when you’re practicing them.”
The Spartans can only share the crown if host Temple City beats South Pasadena on Thursday and the Spartans defeat host Monrovia. They would finish tied for the league title, but South Pasadena would be the No. 1 playoff seed by virtue of its season sweep of the series.
James Kawakami made all six of his free-throw attempts, his only points of the game, when the Spartans were desperately trying to keep it from getting out of hand.
South Pasadena made 23 of its 27 free-throw attempts. La Ca ada was 7 of 15 from the line.
“I wasn’t thinking,” Kawakami said of his shots. “I was just trying to get the ball in the basket. (The free-throw difference) was huge. It changed the whole game.”
Neither team shotthe ball particularly well. The Tigers shot 27 percent (9 of 33) from the field and the Spartans shot 29 percent (13 of 44). La Ca ada, which has held to opponents to 44 points or fewer in 18 of 25 games this season, led in the first half, but the Tigers seemed to take control.
With the score tied at 31 at the start of the fourth quarter, Harry Yadav sank a 3-pointer on his first shot attempt of the game.
“You just have to be ready,” he said. “I got the opportunity and I’m glad I made it.”
Alireza Jabalameli, who got the Tigers back in the game in the third quarter by scoring nine of his 17 points, hit a foul shot for a four-point lead with 1:56 to play.
“I just needed to put my team on my back,” he said. “But at the same time I made sure our players got involved.”
La Canada twice cut the lead to three down the stretch, but the Spartans were never able to tie it.