Culver City Observer -

Culver Boys Win Two, Lose Two


December 11, 2014

Fred Altieri

At the tipoff it's Ben Arena

By Fred Altieri

Sports Reporter

It's becoming a tradition that the Culver City High boys basketball team opens its season in the Mira Costa High Tournament in Manhattan Beach.

The Centaurs didn't make it to the championship game as they had last season but they did win their last two games of the tournament including a strong finish on Saturday afternoon, December 6, against Banning High, 59-31.

This 2014-15 edition is noticeably different than last season's team that had nine seniors on the roster including the entire starting unit. Pressure defense is still the backbone of the program but this year it will be even more pronounced due to a younger and less experienced squad.

Third-year head coach Adam Eskridge on his current group: "We're always going to be good defensively. That's our strength and will keep us in almost every game. We're working on becoming more confident offensively, executing better, trying to identify the scorers we run our sets for. We've lost 95 to 99 percent of our offense from last year due to graduation."

Culver started off the week losing to Harvard-Westlake, 61-31. The Wolverines busted out to 39-14 halftime lead and never looked back.

Eskridge spelled it out: "Harvard-Westlake was one of those games where we were shell-shocked from the beginning. The game was an eye opener: this is how it goes. This is how hard we have to play. The guys realized it right away and the next day in practice we were more intense and focused."

The Centaurs then took it on the chin two days later from host and last year's tournament champion, Mira Costa, 63-29. Despite the losing margin Culver were still within reach during the third quarter before the floodgates opened up. The Mustangs buried the Centaurs 23-6 in the fourth quarter.

Yet Eskridge saw some light: "It was one of the better games we played all week. The score got away from us in late in the third quarter when they started to pull away. We really played well for two and half quarters. Our guys played with a lot of energy defensively but we struggled to score.

"Mira Costa played some tough defense on us. We were getting the stops but we weren't getting the scores. Mira Costa is a class team and eventually it made a late run when we cleared the bench. But our guys competed hard for the entire game. We're not there yet in terms of experience."

Culver realized its first win of the season in the third game against the Carson High Colts, 52-33, as their offense output finally started to reward their defensive intensity after a slow start.

"Carson got out early on us. It just took a quarter for us to get back to our game and get our energy and mojo back. The defense was poor in the first quarter as we gave up 13 points," related Eskridge.

"The third quarter was probably the best quarter we played all year when we outscored them 16-2. Defensively we were great. Offensively we were getting out and moving. It was a big relief for our guys to get a win and it allowed them to relax. We had trouble scoring in the first two games and we broke out of that against Carson. And again against Banning we were able to put up a decent amount of points and gain confidence."

The Centaurs evened their season record to 2-2 with a convincing win against Banning. They held the Pilots to 14 total points in the second half by upping the defensive pressure even further with a virtual full court press for the entire 16 minutes.

Eskridge appreciated the effort: "Defensively we were great in the first half. The guys knew it was a team we should have taken care of rather easily but they were just in a rush offensively. The turnovers killed us. We would turnover the ball and immediately get it right back. We couldn't really get any flow offensively."

The Centaurs had only a 21-17 lead. Their halftime huddle took care of that said Eskridge: "Our message at halftime was to take care of the ball. Our goal was to keep the turnovers to eight in the second half. We did that. The goal was to get stops and score, get stops and score. That's how we built up the lead. Once the team settled down we were able to turn the corner."

Culver has another round of tournament games scheduled for this week in Corona del Mar as they look to get as much experience as possible before the Ocean League competition begins in mid-January.

There are two new schools in the league this year: El Segundo and Lawndale and that further turns the heat up a notch.

"Our league is going to be a bear even though it's changed. The teams that came in: Lawndale is extremely good, El Segundo is off to a good start, Santa Monica is Santa Monica, they're always good and Beverly has had some kids transfer in to replace the kids they lost. So it's going to be tough," said Eskridge.

He spoke of this year's starters and supporting players: "We started Ben Arena at center. He really helps us defensively and with rebounding. Kyle Johnson starts at forward. He had a great impact in the playoffs last year. His defense is fantastic and his energy is huge.

"Jailon Bates is at forward, the only guy we have who has consistent varsity experience. He had a good offensive tournament and we expect him to score for us throughout the year. Darae Thompson at the two-guard has been a really nice revelation for us. He has been our most consistent offensive threat so far, has been great on defense and the boards and knows how to get things done.

Fred Altieri

Isaiah Benson on the drive

"Isaiah Njoku is at point guard. He's a bulldog and relentless on defense. He has a motor that just doesn't stop. This is his first varsity experience just like it is for a lot of our guys. We're playing Malik McLinn, a sophomore. One of our point guards is a freshman, Nicky Green.

"We have Myles Elrington who is new to basketball. He never really played basketball until he got to high school. He's only a junior and is unbelievably athletic, maybe the most athletic guy we've had come through our program in awhile.

"We're at an interesting point right now. We want to win as many games as we can leading up to league. Last year we almost took for granted how experienced we were. With this team we are so basic as to what we're doing. I want to see an improvement every game, every week as we move forward."


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