By Miguel A. Melendez Staff Writer
PASADENA — It wasn’t exactly shock and awe, but the Pasadena High School boys basketball team came close to it.
With precision, speed and execution, the second-seeded Bulldogs blitzed Bonita in the first quarter to end on a 15-3 run, en route to a 64-50 win Tuesday night in the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AAA playoffs.
Pasadena (22-7) will host Beverly Hills (20-9) in Friday’s semifinals at Muir.
Bonita (25-5) had no answer for the Bulldogs in the first quarter, succumbing to their pressure that resulted in nine first-quarter turnovers. The Bearcats finished with 19 turnovers.
Pasadena led 22-7 after the first, and although Bonita, which trailed by as many as 19, made a valiant second-half run it never closed the gap under 10.
“The first five minutes we sort of got blitzed,” Bonita coach Greg Eckler said. “It was just too late before we found ourselves. I wish we had back those first five minutes.”
Pasadena coach Tim Tucker scouted Bonita two weeks before the season ended, knowing well that the Bearcats presented a challenge with their deft perimeter shooting, led by Matt Adamo’s 14 points. Brandon Ko proved tenacious for the Bearcats, finishing with 13 points, six assists and five rebounds. The Bulldogs reversed roles, this time getting off to a strong start before complacency ensued in the second half.
“I didn’t want (Bonita) on my side of the bracket,” Tucker said. “This is the game I pointed that was scary to me, and they prove dit. When we could have knocked them out early we didn’t. I thought we just outlasted them. I don’t think we did anything great down the stretch.”
Blake Hamilton accentuated the Bulldogs’ speed with two fastbreak dunks to finish with 16 points and a game-high 14 rebounds along with three blocks and three steals. Sophomore point guard Ajon Efferson led the way for Pasadena with a game-high 18 points and three assists.
The Bulldogs shot better (42 percent on 20 of 47) than the Bearcats (36 percent on 20 of 55) but what seemingly kept Bonita in the game was its offensive rebounding edge (14-7) and ability to take the Bulldogs out of their element. Pasadena’s run-and-gun offense and easy buckets in transition was virtually nonexistent in the second half.
“We’d take quick shots and we go down the court and play defense for 25 seconds,” Tucker said. “They were making the game longer for us than we were making it for them, thus we looked real tired down the stretch.”
John Haywood’s steal and fastbreak layup with 6:06 left in the game gave Pasadena a 27-8 lead. But it was Bonita on the ensuing possession had three offensive rebounds before Bryan Mahood (12 points, 5 rebounds) hit an 8-foot jumper, much to the chagrin of Tucker, who called a timeout.
“We were standing around, making one pass and shooting the ball,” Tucker said. “Every fourth (possession) we did (run our offense) but for the most part we didn’t.”
Pasadena forward Brandon Jolley, who finished with 11 points, eight rebounds, 8 assists and three steals, said the team lacked mental focus.
“We got a lead and decided to take it easy,” he said. “We were just thinking they were not a good team, and we were helping them.”
Pasadena did just enough to get by. Hamilton’s dunk on a fastbreak off a Haywood no-look pass made it 31-18 with 1:22 left in the second quarter. Jolley found Hamilton down the baseline for another dunk with 1:01 left in the game to make it 61-47.
“Every time I thought we made a run, they answered,” Eckler said. “Every time. They’d hit a three or a jumper. They’re really good.”