L.A. North: Taft 45, El Camino Real 44

WOODLAND HILLS -- The El Camino Real boys' basketball team forced Woodland Hills Taft into a half-court offense and slowed the game to a grinding pace, but came up a point short against its West Valley League rival.

Taft (12-3), the No. 9 team in the ESPNLA Top 20 basketball rankings, gutted out a 45-44 win at El Camino Real High School in a game that was scoreless for the final two minutes. Brandon Perry hit the game-winning shot for Taft, then the Toreadors stymied El Camino Real to hold on to its slim lead.

Perry scored a team-high 15 points for Taft, but this game was all about defense and stops. It was definitely not the type of game Taft fans are used to seeing nor the players are used to playing.

First-year Taft coach Jason Hart said his team is still searching for an identity.

“We don’t have a style yet,” Hart said. “Our style is winning games.”

El Camino Real (9-6) jumped out to an 11-4 lead in the first quarter and was up 14-9 after one period.

But Taft went on an 11-0 run to open the second quarter and took a 20-14 lead. El Camino Real came alive at the end of the period to cut the lead to one point, 22-21, at halftime.

Still El Camino was 3-for-10 from the field in the second quarter while Taft started spreading the ball around.

Kris Yanku hit a 3-pointer and scored the first five points for Taft to open the second quarter. Perry ended the 11-0 run with a pair of free throws.

Michael Thomas broke the scoreless drought for El Camino with a basket with 4:44 to play before halftime. He scored the final six points of the half on a dunk and a pair of free throws.

“They’re a good team,” Hart said. “I respect all opponents.”

El Camino Real took a one-point lead in the third quarter. Julian Richardson scored eight points to open the quarter. He was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field and made 2-of-4 free throws during the stretch.

But Perry helped Taft keep pace with four points in the quarter. Steve Jones and Anthony January ended the third quarter with a pair of dunks.

The fourth quarter started slowly. After Cris Francis hit a 3-pointer to give El Camino Real a four-point lead, 38-34, Darius Henderson tied the score, 38-38, with 6:26 to play.

Jones hit a 3-pointer to give Taft a 41-38 lead, but Mason Pollock gave El Camino a one-point lead, 42-41, with a 3-pointer with 4:43 to play.

Yanku put back his own missed shot to give Taft the lead again, 43-42, with 4:04 in the fourth quarter. El Camino went up 44-43 on a basket by Maleke Haynes, his only points of the game.

Perry gave Taft a one-point two minutes later and both teams played suffocating defense the rest of the way.

“He played huge,” Hart said of Perry. “He did a good job.”

Richardson led all scorers with 17 points and was 6-for-11 from the field.