By Keith Lair
AZUSA – The gawky sophomore of two years ago is a big, strapping senior now.
South Hills High School’s Korey Serna is 6-foot-9 and still growing. He was cut from the Huskies’ basketball program as a sophomore. On Thursday night, he led South Hills to a convincing 48-36 victory over Temple City in the championship game of the Azusa Tournament.
“I’ll never stop growing,” said Serna, who grew three inches between last season and this season. “I’m eating my vegetables and drinking my milk. I have two inches left in me.”
Serna had a game-high 21 points and 20 rebounds and was named the tournament MVP.
“He had an outstanding tournament,” South Hills coach Paul Reed said. “(Assistant coach) Mike Sullivan worked out with Korey for three years to get him here. He came around and worked hard every day. He’s had a great season thus far.” Serna is averaging 14.4 points and 10.7 rebounds per game this season.
“My coaches helped me get through the physicality and this year it’s going to be a snap,” he said.
Last week, the Rams defeated the Huskies, 61-58, in a nonleague contest at Temple City.
Much of the credit for Thursday’s victory goes to Serna. The Rams, whose tallest player – 6-4 Kasmir Khaliq – is five inches shorter than Serna, double-, triple- and at times quadruple-teamed Serna.
“They got the ball inside,” Temple City coach Eric Chin said. “Their center is a big presence and it is always hard for us to stop him. We have to do a lot to try and stop him.”
Despite the focus, Serna was still able to get rebounds and score on follow-up baskets.
“Practice makes perfect,” Serna said of having so many players always tugging on his jersey. “You get physical in practice and you play physical in games.”
And when he didn’t score, he was kicking the ball out to Jenko Santos, who had 11 points, including three 3-pointers.
“We like to play inside-out, let the defense collapse and let our outside guys attack,” Reed said. “We wanted to push the ball offensively and make their big kid play against our big kid.”
The Huskies (8-3) outrebounded the Rams, 51-31.
“We have to go hard every time on the rebound,” Rams guard Ryan Cosato said. “It’s hard. You just have to put forward your best effort.”
Temple City made 12 3-pointers in last week’s victory. But the Rams, whose five-game winning streak came to an end, made only 23.1 percent (6 of 26) of their attempts from behind the 3-point arc on Thursday.
“We said we’re going to play AYSO soccer-style defense,” Reed said. “Stand by your man and we’ll get oranges afterward.”
Temple City scored only 15 points in the second half, shooting 14.3 percent (5 of 35) in the half, 21.3 percent (13 of 61) for the game.
“I was hitting them in the first half and in the second half they played up a little more on me,” said Cosato, who had 14 points – 12 in the first half, all on 3-pointers. He went 1 for 8 in the second half.
“I was taking extended 3s. The shots weren’t falling and I was getting tired,” he said.
It was anybody’s game for the first 12 minutes. South Hills, with a 22-21 lead, scored the final nine points of the first half and the first basket of the second half to take a 33-21 lead.
The Huskies got the lead with the inside play of Serna and 6-5 Chris Porter, who had 15 rebounds in the game, coupled with the 3-point shooting by Santos.
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