By Fred Altieri
It's back to the fundamentals after the Culver City High boys basketball team took two more Ocean League hits the hard way. And it's become apparent the fourth quarter is the Centaurs' Achilles heel this season in the consecutive four-point losses.
The first came at home against Beverly Hills, 60-56. Two nights later host Morningside High in Inglewood added to the pain, 68-64.
The team returned to Monday's practice with a renewed commitment and determination to right the ship before the playoffs begin once the last four remaining league games have been completed.
Head coach Adam Eskridge explained why. "We are just getting away from our team fundamentals and even our individual fundamentals where we get loose with the ball," he said. "It's easy to do when the pressure's on.
"We talked about that today. "We have extra adrenalin flowing. We're fighting so hard for 30 minutes. We want to win so bad. Instead of trying to do it together we're trying to do it by ourselves in the last two minutes of the game."
The Centaurs are tied for fourth place in the Ocean League and are two games behind third place Inglewood whom they play this coming Friday at home. Beverly Hills and Santa Monica are tied for first place at 5-1 each.
Three teams are assured of playoff berths and it's common for more to be selected.
Eskridge: "As a team we're addressing some of the mistakes we're making and how we can fix them. The last half hour of practice today that's all we did was one-minute games. We put one minute on the clock, every game was tied, we rotated who had the ball and we worked on situations."
Wednesday's home game against Beverly Hills went down to the wire after numerous momentum and lead changes during the first three quarters. The crowd was loud, supportive and involved led by the Centaur cheer squad.
Culver was down by two points, 54-52 with only a minute to go in the game. But the Normans managed to split the seam on the left side and go in for layup. A couple of turnovers and a few missed shots resigned Culver into fouling Beverly to extend the clock. It was not to be.
Eskridge was looking ahead while assessing the damage. "Hopefully we grow from this. As much as it stings and it hurts to have lost these last three league games the way we did where we had late leads and couldn't make plays down the stretch I think it was positive in how the team dealt with it. And they dealt with the criticism of them."
Friday night's loss at Morningside was even more difficult to bear. The Centaurs jumped out to a 9-0 lead. The Monarchs kept whittling away and finally caught Culver with four minutes remaining in the half. It was dog fight for the last 20 minutes of the game with both sides pushing each other to the limit.
Morningside extended the lead to 53-47 after three quarters. The Centaurs came storming back with pressure defense and some tough put backs on the offensive boards and tied it,58-58 with 2:08 remaining in the game. And they had the momentum.
Unfortunately, the last two-minute blues reared its ugly head once again for the Centaurs.
Eskridge: "I stressed to them that we didn't get the job done more than any individual. We as five people allowed one shooter to go get his own rebound in a crunch situation on Friday night. That's on all five of us for not rallying around the basketball. They understood. They listened. They took it to heart."
With the playoffs looming and the likelihood that Culver will have to play most if not all of its games on the road should they advance, the team is keen on making the proper adjustments while hardening their resolve. Their practices have become more critical if they want to see post-season success.
Eskridge saw them getting off on the right foot during Monday's practice. "I think they took it positively," he said. "I saw some growth even within our one-minute drill session today. When we first started it was helter-skelter. By the end we were executing our plays perfectly for a layup. We got a couple of great looks and good defensive plays."
The Centaurs travel to Santa Monica and Beverly Hills and host Inglewood and Hawthorne to complete the last four scheduled games of the Ocean League season before the CIF Playoffs begin. Time is running short.
Eskridge stayed positive: "The group that's here is still fighting with heart and they want to succeed. They want to do well and get the program going. I know when I come back to see them the next day they're ready to go and their attitude is good.
"That's the way this team has been. The team is ready to keep working."