Boys basketball: After early-season struggles, Falcons rebound with Consolation Championship at Los Gatos tourney

December 12, 2018 — by Siva Sambasivam and Justin Guo

After going winless in their first five scrimmages, the Falcons, led by head coach Patrick Judge and assistant coaches Ben Neves and Thomas Marlen, have  gone 1-1 in their first two official preseason games. They also won two of their three games at the Los Gatos Wildcat Shootout tournament held from Dec. 5.-7 en route to the Consolation Championship.

Senior starters Sehij Dhindsa and Kyle Yu, both co-captains, were injured at different points during the first few weeks of the season, causing the team to adjust to playing without two of their primary scorers. Dhindsa, a small forward, was sidelined for two weeks with an ankle sprain, and Yu, a shooting guard, suffered a facial laceration, which needed eight stitches, in the team’s first preseason game against Branham.

Sophomore guard Cameron King filled in for Dhindsa and Yu  in the starting lineup when each was out. When healthy, the Falcons are able to run out a five-guard lineup with sophomore Tyler Chu, senior captain Hanlin Sun and senior Patrick Li rounding out the squad.

Yu has been the leading scorer in the early going, averaging 11.5 points in the he has played. Since Yu is the offensive catalyst, the team felt his absence when he was sidelined.

Though they were still able to pull out a win in the game that he left early, the Falcons lost their second preseason game to the Gunn Titans,  43-41, and were barely able to get going offensively.

The team has also gotten solid scoring from the rest of its starters, with Sun, Li and Dhindsa all averaging upwards of 8 points a game.

The team attributed their recent success to their ability to not get down on themselves, despite the early losses, which are bound to happen with a young team.

“In the early parts of the season, we had a lot of young guys play their first ever varsity scrimmages and returners play their first games in a while, but I think the most important thing we’ve done to bounce back is sticking with it, no matter what happens,” said Sun, the team’s senior co-captain and point guard.

Dhindsa added that staying competitive in almost every game that they lost helped players stay positive.

“Our team responded really well. In all the games we lost we were right there until the very end,” he said. “It was just a matter of closing out our fourth quarters and playing a full 32 minutes. We knew we had what it took, but we just weren’t finishing the job.”

The Falcons were able to take a huge step forward in this regard during the Los Gatos tournament. Though they lost their first game to the Leland Chargers, the eventual winners of the tournament, 65-58, the Falcons were able to piece together two of their best games on the season, the first against the Gunn  and the second against the Sobrato Bulldogs.

After falling behind by 21 and only scoring 5 points in the entire first quarter vs. Gunn, the Falcons, led by their bench, were able to go on a 39-6 run in the second and third quarters on their way to a commanding 71-58 win — their first time topping the 70-point mark this season.

One of the main reasons for such a high scoring was their ability to fill the passing lanes on defense and get up the court to score in transition. The team totaled 14 steals and four more deflections on the night and played at a fast pace throughout. Players know that as a smaller team, they will need this defensive intensity to be successful.

In their following game against Branham, the team was able to continue their pressuring of opposing offenses, coming up with another 18 steals. But perhaps more importantly, they contained Branham’s leading scorer to just two points during the entire game, blowing the Bulldogs out 71-47.

During the tournament the Falcons were also able to use a deep lineup to keep their players fresh throughout the game, while tiring out opposing teams. The Falcons went 10-12 men deep in every game they played, while most other teams only played six or seven players. With these two wins, the Falcons earned the Consolation Championship, and although it wasn’t exactly what the team had hoped for going in, there were plenty of positives to be found, especially in the final two games.

“Obviously we’re not satisfied, as we wanted to win first place in the tournament,” Sun said. “We didn’t play our best against Leland, but I think we really picked up our energy and found our team identity in the following two games, allowing us to bounce back and take the consolation championship.”

That identity was their ability to wreak havoc on defense, space the floor and stay rested with their deep rotation. In addition to the over 30 combined steals in those two games, the Falcons also knocked down 23 total 3-point shots.

As an undersized team, the Falcons have had trouble rebounding and defending inside, and their interior struggles will likely continue to throughout the rest of the season.

Judge has placed an emphasis on playing to their strengths, with many five-guard combinations on offense to space the floor, along with pressure looks on defensive, including numerous fullcourt pickup schemes, with the Falcons ran almost exclusively in their wins against Gunn and Branham.

Another huge advantage that the Falcons have over most other teams in the area is their depth, playing 10-12 players on a nightly basis.

“Having a deep team is extremely valuable for us,” Dhindsa said. “Our [bench players] provide us with that spark that some of the starters can’t. Whenever everybody is getting involved and contributing, it makes winning that much more special.”

In addition to the spark they provides, bench players have also been able to keep starters fresh throughout the game, and prepare for worst-case scenarios if one of the starters gets injured. The team has prided itself on the mentality “Next man up.”

Now that the team is fully healthy, they’re turning to thinking about the league season and beyond.

In fact, players believe that if they execute their game plan and play a full four quarters of “Saratoga basketball,” they can be quite an opponent for any team.

“We’ve showed in spurts how good we really can be, but I don't think we’ve played a single complete game yet,” Sun said. “For league and CCS it’s all about us. We know we can win league and make it far in CCS, it’s just up to us to go out and do it.”

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