By Fred Altieri
Culver City High boys basketball sailed into non-favoring winds a few nautical miles due north up the bay in "The Tournament" at Santa Monica High compared to the previous week's successful 3-1 record in Manhattan Beach. This time they came up short by one basket, 60-58, to Palisades in the tourney's bronze match Saturday afternoon for a disappointing 1-3 record in the second week of the season.
Accentuating a sluggish start, the Centaurs couldn't find the bottom of the net and fell behind early after two quarters, 33-20. But they recovered after halftime by letting out their main sails and cut the margin to 43-38 by the end of the 3rd quarter.
Now it was a battle of countering tacks but Culver never quite pulled ahead despite three pointers falling, boards banged and rebounds ripped, balls stolen and free throws dropping during the final eight minutes as the Dolphins had just enough of a breeze to stem the Centaur tide.
Head coach Adam Eskridge assessed his team's play, "This was one game we really let get away. We were not pleased as a team after the game. We turned the ball over 21 times which is our Achilles heel right now.
"I felt like we came out a little flat and Palisades came out really strong. It took us until the second half to match their intensity. The game quickly got away from us. When we kept them in front and held our spots in the press, they had a tough time scoring over us.
"That's more or less the way we want to do things. Keep them in front of us, challenge shots and rebound."
Culver started the tourney off by losing its opening game on Monday, 62-48, to Brentwood School after containing the Eagles to a 45-45 tie through three quarters. Armani Nicolis with 14 points, Wesley Dixon and Jordan Williams with 10 points, six assists each led the team in scoring.
Eskridge liked what he saw despite the loss, "I thought we played a pretty good game against Brentwood. Their point guard is a very good player and we were able to do some things early on to keep the ball out of his hands.
"We were right there, back and forth for three quarters. But we had trouble keeping their point guard off the line as he shot 17 free throws but the guys battled back and held tough. That was our third game in four days and we just faded in the last few minutes.
"The guy that really stepped up was Jordan Williams. He did extremely well. He had to play a lot of minutes because the two guards ahead of him were in foul trouble. I was very pleased with how he played in that game. I believe that was our best game of the week."
Tuesday's 72-40 loss to perennial Los Angeles powerhouse Fairfax proved to be an even tougher affair as the Centaurs found themselves down by double digits throughout most of the game. Nicolis with 13 points and 10 rebounds and Chris Edwards with 12 points and 6 rebounds led the Culver effort.
Eskridge expected as much, "It was an interesting game because a lot of our guys know them. We were real fired up but were a little bit flat to start and Fairfax jumped on us. They came out really firing. They're tough, they're long, they're athletic and they play very good defense."
Friday night's matchup with Locke had the Centaurs back in form as they won going away, 74-45, scoring the most points of the season while yielding the least amount to an opponent. 10 of 12 players scored with Nicolis' 24 points and 10 rebounds, Edwards: 19 points, and Kyle Johnson with eight rebounds led the onslaught.
"It took us a little while and we played down in the first half to the level of our competition. At halftime a couple of our seniors took over and said that this isn't okay and this isn't acceptable. So we came out really strong and had our way in the second half," said Eskridge.
He coach praised his backup unit, "It was our team offense that turned the game into a blowout and that allowed our backups a chance to play. And they played well." The starters equally showed their support.
"We really try to emphasize cheering the backup guys on the court because those are the guys they're practicing with everyday. They work and work and work."
The Centaurs now get a short break before their next contest on December 18, giving them valuable time to practice.
"The good thing is that now we'll have seven or eight practices before we play again. So we'll have a nice little mini-camp where we'll go back and address some of our issues and come back a stronger," said Eskridge.