Boys’ basketball team wins four straight to start league season

January 20, 2022 — by Esther Luan and Howard Shu
Photo by Howard Shu
From left to right: senior Christian Li, juniors Julian Berkowitz-Sklar and Mateusz Palusinski, senior Christopher Liu. The athletes celebrate after Liu scored an “and-one” layup on a fast break to give the Falcons a 49-39 lead over the Wildcats with one minute remaining.
They went 9-2 in preseason and won a key league game against Los Gatos at home on Jan. 14, despite missing key starters.

The boys’ basketball team jumped to a 4-0 start in the El Camino league after beating Wilcox 61-33 on Jan. 18 and winning a back-and-forth 52-47 home game against Los Gatos on Jan. 14, a key victory against one of the strongest teams in the league. 

The Falcons previously won 49-45 and 64-54 against Monta Vista and Fremont on Jan. 8 and Jan 10., respectively.

These wins come in spite of the team missing key players. Shooting guard senior Som Teymouri, the team’s current leading scorer, was out for the first game; senior forward Ishaan Bhandari and junior center Mateusz Palusinski were both out for the first two; and junior forward Mason Wang was out for all three due to injuries. 

“Obviously, not having [Teymouri] was a huge loss, but I don’t think there was ever a moment I believed we wouldn’t win,” junior guard Niveydh Pai said. 

The team has a motto saying to “go 120,” which tells the team to give over 100% effort and go all out, senior point guard Christopher Liu said.

“This year we have 15 guys on our team, which means we can go all out because we’re going to have another rotation coming soon,” Liu said.

In their well-attended home game against Wildcats, they edged ahead in the second half. The starting lineup consisted of senior point guard Christian Li, Teymouri, Pai, senior power forward Ayaaz Shah and senior center Giulio Morini-Bianzino.

“Los Gatos is obviously a rival and they’re one of the top teams in our division, so we knew coming into this game that we had to have our game plan set and everyone healthy to go,” Liu said.

It was a physical game with high defensive intensity, as both teams were full-court pressing, fouling often and double teaming at half court. The game remained close during the first half, with neither team being able to build a lead of more than five points.

After trailing 24-23 at halftime, the Falcons rallied to a 5-point victory thanks to key plays from sophomore shooting guard Bryan Wang and great defense. The game was decided after Liu scored back-to-back fastbreak layups to give the Falcons a 49-39 lead with a minute remaining.

“I think this game was super different because of the big crowd. It was a really good turnout that I was super happy about,” Liu said. “The game was a lot more exciting.”

In their home game against Fremont on Jan. 10, they won 64-54, bolstered by Teymouri’s return and a great performance from Pai, who finished with 22 points.

“Our biggest X-factor player recently has been [Pai],” Li said. “He’s usually a drive and kick kind of player who passes more than he shoots so we get more open shots.”

Pai sprained his ankle on a bad landing during the game against Los Gatos, but appeared to be recovering quickly, Li said. The team is anticipating having all their starters in upcoming league games. 

Though a concentrated offense has been vital to the team’s success so far, Li identified defense as their strongest suit; head coach Patrick Judge’s Falcons have been tough on defense because of their full-court press and the steals it creates. Even with this fast start Li sees room for improvement in consistency — a weakness exposed by the team’s game against Fremont. 

“We weren’t really playing as usual [against Fremont],” he said. “We’re known as a defensive team, but in the first half we were just out of place and missing assignments.” 

They led 31-29 at the half, but were able to take a 10-point win because of playing better defense and taking better shots in the second half.

In their first league game against Monta Vista on Jan. 8, the team won 49-45 despite underperforming.

“I’d say our team chemistry was a bit off because we had four missing players, especially a few people who played a lot,” Li said. “But after each game, we’re just getting better.”

The recent spike in COVID-19 cases has somewhat impacted the team’s performance as well. Li said the team struggled with wearing masks, which covered their nose and mouth for the whole game, as they usually put masks to their chin when playing. Several of the team’s star player sit-outs in the past few games have also been due to COVID-19 exposures. 

Though the team’s 9-2 preseason record — still relatively dominant compared to other local teams — pales in comparison to their 21-2 summer record against some skilled, higher division teams, Li believes that these recent wins have helped them gain momentum.

“Our morale isn’t low, and we’re expecting better games,” Li said. “I think we kind of relaxed a bit because we have confidence that we’re better than other teams, so we need to focus on not playing down to their level but just playing our own game.”

In their most recent non-league game against Monte Vista on Jan. 15, the Falcons continued their momentum with a 51-33 win thanks to key plays from senior center Giulio Morini and Teymouri, among others. On Tuesday, Jan. 18, the team won 61-33 in an away game against Wilcox. Their next league games were against Gunn (Jan. 21) and Fremont (Jan. 28). 

Liu was happy with their defense in the past two games, holding both opponents to just 33 points, a feat he believes is pretty insane at the level they are playing. 

“This year, one reason we’ve been able to win so many games is because of our defense,” Liu said. “Even if we have a bad offensive game, our defense is still always going to be there.”

For these two games, Liu said the team has thrived from playing team ball.

“We don’t have just one [key player], but we have five guys on the court that each know their own position,” Liu said.

The team is already locked in for CCS after being seeded in due to the 9-2 preseason, but they have sights set on winning the league. They are currently first in the El Camino league, but Liu believes the team still has not reached their full potential.

“I feel like we’re finally grouping together, playing together the way we should be, but I think there’s still a lot of improvement to be made,” Liu said.

Their major competitor in the league looks to be the Lynbrook Vikings, a team they will play at home on Feb. 1.

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