Taft knocks off Birmingham

WOODLAND HILLS – The Taft boys' basketball team is one step closer to repeating as City Section Division I champion after a convincing, 78-56, win over Birmingham on Wednesday night.

Anthony January scored a game-high 26 points for Taft, Brandon Perry had 21 (11 in the fourth quarter), but it was the aggressive play of Kris Yanku that set the tone in the first half as Toreadors built a nine-point halftime lead in the quarterfinal game.

Yanku scored 13 of his 17 points in the first half. Taft coach Jason Hart said he was impressed with the way Yanku took control of the offense and created plays for himself and his teammates.

“It’s not surprising,” Hart said. “Chris was our leading scorer before Anthony came on to the team. It makes us a tougher team.”

January transferred to Taft from Compton and wasn’t eligible to play until December. He has become the go-to scorer for Taft since his arrival. Yanku’s emergence as a scoring threat adds another layer to the tough Taft offense.

“It’s a balance,” Hart said. “He’s aggressive and he needs to learn to make better decisions.”

Yanku didn’t make many mistakes in the first half. He matched the Birmingham offensive output in the first quarter, scoring seven points as Taft jumped out to a 17-7 lead.

He scored another six points in the second quarter and was a perfect 5-for-5 from the free-throw line in the first half.

Despite Taft’s hot start, Birmingham kept pace. Iseah Rodgers hit two 3-pointers to start the second quarter to cut the Taft lead to four points, 17-13.

“We had a chance, hit a nice 3-pointer in the corner,” Birmingham coach Nick Hauselman said. “We just needed a couple more things to line up.”

But Yanku and January took control of the game minutes later and helped Taft build a nine-point lead in the second quarter.

January nearly matched Yanku’s output in the first half with 11 points.

Taft extended its lead to 13 points in the third quarter and was up by as many as 22 in the fourth quarter.

“We’re happy we got the win,” Hart said. “They’re taking care of business. We’ll see where it goes.”

Top-seeded Taft will play fifth-seeded Crenshaw in the semifinals at Cal State Dominguez Hills on Saturday.