Ask Keith Hunter how many turnovers his team had in its playoff loss to Bethel of Vallejo last year and he’ll instantly answer 24.
The Golden Valley boys basketball coach has made it a point his players won’t forget that number, either. The Cougars’ focus this year has been on taking care of the ball and rebounding.
So far, so good.
Golden Valley has noticeably improved in both areas early on this season as the Cougars improved to 8-0 with another impressive showing on Monday night with a 86-60 win over Madera South at Cougar Arena.
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“That’s what killed us on our way to Arco last year,” said third-year starter Evan Stillahn. “We really worked on betting better with our turnovers and rebounding. We’ve worked on it a lot.”
Hunter reminds his team of those two areas every day.
Last year, Golden Valley relied on 6-foot-6 center Josh Sykes to grab everything off the boards. This year players like Stillahn, Christian Carroll, Devon Powell and Ben Fletcher are taking some of the rebounding burden off of Sykes.
When Stillahn isn’t sinking 3-pointers like the six he made against the Stallions (4-5), he’s helping out on the boards, grabbing seven rebounds in three quarters. Carroll chipped in with four rebounds to go with his 21 points and seven assists.
The two sharp-shooters are doing more than just scoring.
“They have to,” Hunter said. “They’re athletic enough to do it. We struggled late last year taking care of the ball. Twenty-four turnovers is too much in a playoff game. That’s first game of the year stuff. Those guys are seniors now. They’re a year older. They’re bigger, stronger and faster.”
The Cougars pulled away from Madera South (4-5) early as they closed out the first quarter with an 11-0 run to take a 29-8 lead.
Golden Valley was efficient on offense, scoring just about every time down the floor as the Cougars worked the ball around. Sykes dominated inside, scoring six of his 21 points in the first quarter.
Sykes didn’t spend much time on the floor in the Cougars’ 78-77 win over El Camino in the Nevada Union Invitational championship game on Saturday because of foul trouble.
“Tonight I kept my composure,” said Sykes, who had four dunks. “I was thinking about what I needed to do to stay out of foul trouble.”
Meanwhile, Stillahn and Carroll put on a shooting display as they combined for 10 of Golden Valley’s 12 3-pointers. Carroll even made a 25-foot shot late in the second quarter.
Golden Valley extended the lead to 76-44 by the end of the third quarter when Hunter emptied his bench.