TURLOCK — Doug Cornfoot hoped to make it an uncomfortable evening for the Merced High boys basketball team.
Knowing that the Bears thrive on their quickness and ability to drive to the basket, the Turlock head coach unleashed a plethora of zone looks on Wednesday night at Bulldog Arena.
The game plan couldn’t have gone much better for the Bulldogs.
Instead of trying to find creases in the zones, the Bears were content to let fly from around the perimeter, despite the fact that shots were not falling. Merced went just 1 for 17 from beyond the arc and what started as a battle for first place in the Central California Conference turned into a very comfortable 54-40 victory for the Bulldogs.
“I thought we did a really good job of forcing them to take shots that weren’t in their comfort zone,” Cornfoot said. “I’ve seen them play a couple times and know that they really like to drive in and get to the basket.
“We thought we could take that away with some zone. The guys did a great job keeping everything in front of them, and they weren’t making shots from the outside.”
The 1-2-2 and 2-3 zones weren’t the only defensive looks that gave Merced (14-6, 2-1 CCC) trouble on Wednesday.
The Bears coughed the ball up eight times against Turlock’s 1-3-1 trap in the opening quarter. When Merced did manage to beat the press, nothing was going down.
Hector Nava’s squad opened the night 2 for 11 shooting and only marginally improved the rest of the way.
Turlock (14-5, 3-0 CCC) had no such issues.
The interior play of Kenny Fraser (14 points and nine rebounds) and Travis Cook (11 points) gutted the Merced defense, combining for 12 points in the first quarter as the Bulldogs built a 17-5 lead.
Merced calmed things down a bit in the second quarter, but failed to cut into Turlock’s lead. The Bears didn’t turn the ball over and Jonathan Chairez scored seven of his team-high 16 points, but the lead remained 12 at intermission.
The Bullodgs left no doubt after the break.
Turlock quickly put the game out of reach, opening the second half with a 13-2 run. Fraser’s and-one hook shot made it 40-19 with 1:40 left in the quarter.
“You have to give Turlock a lot of credit,” Nava said. “They came ready to play and had an excellent game plan. Cornfoot had them well prepared for our press, and they got us out of what we like to do offensively.
“They mixed it up, too, with the zones they were showing us, but I felt like a number of times we took the easy rout. Instead of driving in, we would just take the shots that Turlock wanted us to take. Especially on a night where the shots just aren’t falling, you have to stick to your strengths.”
• GOLDEN VALLEY 78, BUHACH COLONY 47, at Atwater – The Cougars’ big three of Josh Sykes (19 points), Evan Stillahn (game-high 23) and Christian Carroll (20) all had big evenings as Golden Valley (15-5, 2-1 CCC) broke open a win over Buhach Colony with a 28-point third quarter.
Kaden Verdin’s 20 points helped keep the Thunder (3-15, 0-3 CCC) in it at the half.
• PITMAN 60, ATWATER 52, at Atwater – A fourth-quarter technical foul turned into a Pitman seven-point play that the Falcons (12-8, 0-3 CCC) were never able to recover from.
• MERCED COLLEGE 74, PORTERVILLE 33, at Porterville – The inside play of center Sonji Green (game-high 19 points) and forward Rogeene Russell helped the Lady Devils get up early and cruise to a road victory over Porterville.
Madeline Diamante hit three 3s and had a season-high 11 points for MC (14-9, 3-1 CVC).
Sean Lynch can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at email@example.com.