Keith Hunter felt his team had gotten away from what it does best in the last few games.
Albeit against some pretty good competition, the Golden Valley boys basketball team found itself in a mini slump, losing five of its last seven games. Somewhere along the way, the Cougars started slowing things down.
“I really wanted us to get back to pushing the tempo on offense,” Hunter said. “Part of it may be that I just enjoy watching that kind of game more, but I really feel like we’re at our best when we get the ball up the court and don’t allow the defense to set up.”
Atwater might agree with Hunter after Friday night.
GV picked up the pace on both sides of the floor and the Falcons struggled to keep up. Atwater turned the ball over 30 times as the Cougars cruised to 65-47 victory at Cougar Arena.
“We played well. We had high energy. But I still see things that we need to improve on,” Hunter said. “That’s good, though. To be able to play well and know you can still get better is what every coach wants.”
With just two rounds of league play this season, both squads knew an 0-2 start to Central California Conference play would be a difficult hole to climb out of. Still, it was Golden Valley that seemed to have the greater sense of urgency.
The Cougars (13-5, 1-1 CCC) pushed the ball like Hunter wanted and Atwater (12-7, 0-2 CCC) made the mistake of trying to match the pace. That led to a disastrous 12-turnover first quarter and put the Falcons behind from the onset.
The duo of Josh Sykes and and Evan Stillahn carried the offensive load in the opening quarter, combining for 14 points as GV led 20-9 at the end of one.
Atwater never got the score back under single digits the rest of the way.
“The turnovers killed us, and it’s not like we didn’t know their little trap was coming,” Atwater coach Tony Hillyer said. “I think there had been a focus on this game all off season, because GV was the defending champs and the team to beat along with Turlock. We were too hyped up. There were times we threw the ball to absolutely no one.
“The game plan coming in was to try and limit Christian (Carroll) to less than 10 points. We just didn’t anticipate Evan to be quite so hot.”
It was gamble that certainly burned Atwater.
With Carroll receiving a little extra defensive attention, Stillahn was free to ride a hot hand. He scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the first half, starting the game six for six shooting. The senior didn’t cool until the fourth quarter, hitting 8 of his first 10 attempts and going six of his first seven from 3-point range as the Cougars took a commanding 41-22 lead into intermission.
“After the first couple shots go down you get a feeling you’re going to have a good night,” Stillahn said. “I think pushing the ball every chance we got was a big part of it. When we drive in, we get the opportunity to kick for some of those open 3s. None of us are great one-on-one players, so we’re definitely not as effective in just half-court sets.
“My teammates deserve a lot of credit for getting me the ball and helping create those open looks.”
Atwater took better care of the ball the rest of the way, but could never get its offensive game going.
Ben Peterson led the Falcons with 15 points and 13 rebounds, while Corbett McDaniel added eight and Josh Heller chipped in seven points and 11 boards.