Yucaipa holds off Fontana A.B. Miller for crucial Citrus Belt League victory

Written by Bob on January 27th, 2010

The Yucaipa Thunderbirds held off a late Fontana A.B. Miller Rebels charge to claim a 73-61 Citrus Belt League victory, Tuesday, at Yucaipa High School.
Photos By BOB OTTO

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YUCAIPA, CA – Minutes before tip off, Yucaipa boy’s basketball coach, Pat McLeod, agreed that yes, Fontana A.B. Miller poses a problem. They are quick, aggressive, and they like to press.

And those three defensive ingredients have given the Thunderbirds problems. But on this night Yucaipa handled all that the Rebels threw at them – including a full court press full of pressure, full of intensity.

And when the final buzzer sounded, Yucaipa had held off a talented A.B. Miller team, 73-61, Tuesday at Yucaipa High School in yet another crucial Citrus Belt League game.

“We knew they are very aggressive, very quick, and like to press,” McLeod said. “That has been our Achilles heal in the last couple of our losses.”

Yucaipa was fresh off the memory of a disappointing 53-52 loss to Redlands East Valley in which critical turnovers cost the Thunderbirds a chance at victory.

And this rebound from that loss was crucial. For the second half of league play begins tonight with the Thunderbirds traveling to Redlands to take on the second-place Terriers (5-2 CBL, 15-4).

And battling it out for third place are Yucaipa, A.B. Miller, and Redlands East Valley deadlocked with 4-3 records. A spot that assures entrance into the CIF playoffs come mid-February.

But second place isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Redlands has a precarious hold on second after losses to league-leading Eisenhower (7-0, 16-5) and REV (4-3, 12-8).

And Yucaipa (4-3 CBL, 10-9 overall) seemed to play with an urgency that said they fully understand that their league destiny was in their control.

The Thunderbirds came out at tip off and within seconds Tyler McGrand (11 points) buried his first of three, three-pointers. Miller immediately began pressing, but Yucaipa responded by getting the ball inbounds and then hitting a guard or forward racing down the sidelines, or launching deep passes over the top to beat the press.

“We knew they run a really tough press,” said Yucaipa guard, Cole Hauso, 3 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. “So we practiced a press break to beat it. We needed to protect the ball. We know that’s why we lost to REV. Cutting down on the turnovers was a big key for us.”

But another big key was Yucaipa’s defense.

Yucaipa smothered the Rebels with a 2-3 zone that forced the Rebels to shoot from outside. And they were off the mark in the first half. With the misses clanging off the rim, Yucaipa’s big front line of 6-feet-4, Colton Wiley; 6-feet-5 Daylin Billingsley, and 6-feet-4, Taijuan Walker dominated the boards, often limiting Miller to one shot.

“Miller really crashes the boards; all five guys are on the boards,” McLeod said. “With our 2-3 zone, our guards (Hauso, Drake Malveaux, and Tyler McGrand) boxed out on top and that made a difference.”

But the biggest difference was Walker. The senior forward continued his double-double barrage by pulling down 25 rebounds – 15 on the defensive board, along with 24 points and eight blocked shots. The 25 rebounds are a season high for Walker, who came into the game averaging 22 points and 15 rebounds.

But as prolific as Walker was, he had plenty of help from a balanced attack in which seven players scored. McGrand scored 11 points and Malveaux had a career-high 17 as a Thunderbird. Of Yucaipa’s 42 first-half points the duo netted 21 of them, with Malveaux pouring in 12 points.

“Drake is a double threat,” McLeod said of his 5-feet-10 junior guard, who came in the game averaging 10 points per game. “He can dribble-drive and break guys down and he’s a three-point threat as well.”

And as for McGrand, Yucaipa’s coach lauded his senior guard’s contributions of late. McGrand has really aided the Thunderbirds in the past three games by scoring 12, 16, and 11 points. Many from long range.

“He’s one of our hardest workers,” McLeod said. “He struggled in the first couple of league games, but he’s stayed positive and worked hard. He’s come through for us the last few games. It’s nice because it opens up things in the middle for us.”

Although Yucaipa led 20-14 at the end of the first quarter, and took a 42-27 lead into halftime, A.B. Miller refused to fold. Yucaipa held its biggest lead at 15-points mid-way into the third quarter. But then the Rebels began whittling away.

Cassle Hough (14 points) drilled three, three-pointers, and David Freeman (16 points) scored on a dribble drive to pull the Rebels within two at 59-57 with two and a half minutes to play. And suddenly a loud, boisterous Thunderdome crowd grew quiet and uneasy.

Would this be another Yucaipa fold down the stretch?

Daylin Billingsley (10 points, 5 rebounds) said absolutely not by scoring underneath. And his basket swung the momentum back in the Thunderbirds favor. Malveaux followed with two free throws, and Walker slammed home a lob pass that pushed Yucaipa’s margin to 65-57.

Yucaipa finished the final two minutes by outscoring Miller 14-4 to turn back the Rebels’ charge. With under a minute left, Walker ignited a Thunderdome crowd into an earsplitting frenzy with one of his eight blocks and by slamming home his final dunk with 37-seconds left.

The Rebels’ came into the game in sole possession of third place at 4-2. A win would surely have given them a boost into the second half of the season.

“We had a chance to get some separation, which would have been big for us,” said Rebels’ coach, John Romagnoli. “But we didn’t defend very well. We gave up 40 points in that first half and that’s not typical of us. We needed a wake up call at half time, but unfortunately we dug the hole too deep at that point.

“But give Yucaipa credit. They came out and shot very well. They were aggressive and they did a good job against us.”

A.B. MILLER SCORING: Pierre Jury 2, Larry Paylor 5, Davante Stewart 2, Aj Thomas 3, David Freeman 16, Darrius Batts 13, Cassle Hough 14, Joseph Allen 2, Domonique Anthony 4.

YUCAIPA SCORING: Drake Malveaux 17, Cole Hauso 3, Justin Thomas 2, Tyler McGrand 11, Colton Wiley 4, Taijuan Walker 24, Daniel Wallin 2, Daylin Billingsley 10.

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