VANCOUVER — Lloyd Scrubb had a very good feeling about his team’s ultimate identity in the early part of the season, but now, as the post-season beckons, the Vancouver College head coach has an even better sense of the Fighting Irish’s basketball DNA.
It’s a myriad of pressure defences and purposeful trapping which in turn leads to high-tempo opportunities.
That is precisely what unfolded Wednesday night at St. George’s School as the No. 8-ranked Irish topped the host Saints 98-88 before a standing-room-only crowd, sweeping the two-game Independent League regular-season series and gaining a desired advantage when the Lower Mainland tourney draw is determined.
Vancouver College also beat visiting St. George’s 92-79 in the first clash, played Jan. 18.
“We’ve really worked on it,” said Scrubb of his team’s pressure schemes which generated numerous turnovers in a game the Saints stayed in until the late stages. “What I told the guys after this win is that I think it can get even better.
“You can see the size of our team,” Scrubb continued. “We’re not big so that is the way that we have to play to make up for our lack of height.”
St. George’s, besieged by injury this season, showed plenty of heart as it fought to establish an effective rotation.
After falling behind by as many as eight points in the first quarter, the Saints battled back to lead 37-36 late in the second quarter, and then took the lead again at 48-47 in the third quarter.
And although it took a couple of runs in the late third and early fourth quarters for the Irish to build their lead to as many as 15 points (80-65), St. George’s never relented and cut it to seven before finally falling.
“I honestly didn’t think we would have as much trouble with it,” Saints’ head coach Bill Disbrow said of the Irish pressure. “We had worked on it and had gotten a lot better, but they did a good job out of taking us out of what we wanted to do.”
It was easy to see that the Irish offence got the performances it needed from it’s starting group, which scored 71 of its 98 points led by the 23 of guard Jack Cruz-Dumont, and 17 apiece from guard Joshua Jaurigue and forward Sam Bailey.
Yet while forward Jovanic Castillo scored another 17 points off the bench, the greatest contribution that he, and fellow reserves Anthony Pilar and Cam Wright brought, was the right blend of speed, depth and tenacity to make the Vancouver College press operate at full efficiency as an eight-man unit.
“You can fall into the trap of just staying with your starters, but we’re equal enough in talent, so our theory is that we can play more guys, and that they can play harder for shorter periods of time,” said Scrubb.
Despite the loss, Disbrow appreciated the fact that the atmosphere and intensity of the contest was something straight out of the provincial tournament.
“It’s a tremendous thing,” he said. “The excitement tonight, that is B.C. finals-level excitement, so that is great pressure cooker to be in and to have to deal with. It can’t help but make you better and I think we’ll improve from this. I think we’re an inch away from being a good team.”
The Saints, who lost starting point guard Jon Miklin to a torn ACL on the first weekend of the season back in early December, have never been fully healthy this season and much the same can be said for the rest of the team.
Yet Disbrow is finding a way to make things work, putting together a rotation which on Wednesday went 10 deep with rugby, soccer and hockey players and even a star cross-country runner playing major roles.
That runner, Roberto Mazzone, came off the bench to lead the team in scoring with 21 points. The 6-foot-2 senior finished third at the B.C. cross-country championships in the fall.
Jacob Van Santen, the 6-foot-10 senior forward, picked up a pair of first-half fouls and sat much of the first two quarters, but still scored 19 points. Louis Sujir, a Midget AAA hockey player coming back from a lacerated tendon suffered in an on-ice mishap, added 16 off the pine.
The victory gives Vancouver College a much easier draw than St. George’s at the upcoming Lower Mainland championships. Afterwards, Disbrow admitted as much.
“We’ll be in a sudden-death game now against a very good team,” the veteran coach began, adding “Some poor team has us in a sudden-death game because we just became a low seed at the Lower Mainlands. Either Burnaby South, Kits, Killarney or Vancouver College will get us and I know none of them wants that. I’m not saying anything about who is going to win, but we messed things up pretty good there.”
The top three finishers at the Lower Mainlands advance to the B.C. Quad A finals at the Langley Events Centre.