When the Horizon Huskies took the court Thursday to host the Brophy Broncos
both teams were looking to prove they belonged. Horizon cracked the PrepAZ top
10 for the first time this week, but the largely untested Huskies knew that a
win over the fourth ranked Broncos would move them up in the rankings, and
solidify them as a team to watch.
For Brophy the past week has been about defection. Brophy's strength is in its guard play, in particular the depth at guard, but when two Brophy players transferred out of the school this week that bench got a little shorter. Still the deepest team at guard in the state, would Brophy be able to overcome Horizon's spectacular junior combo of Rishi Kakad and Desmond Jones?
The first quarter featured poor shooting and sloppy play from both teams and one look at the scoreboard proved it. At the end of the first Brophy led Horizon 9-6. Certainly no one was running away with the game, but both squads had questions to answer.
For Horizon the questions were for Jones and Kakad. After Jones hit a left wing three for the first bucket of the game neither of the Husky guards scored for the rest of the period. Jones in particular looked uncomfortable with the ball, and Kakad simply couldn't get anything to fall. Brophy, as one would expect, put senior Thanasi Panagiotakopoulos on Kakad and T-Soup's quick hands and smart feet seemed to keep Kakad off balance.
For Brophy it boiled down to finding their strength. The most dangerous aspect of the Broncos is their adaptability. Essentially starting four guards and an undersized center opponents have had difficulty matching up with Brophy all year, and the Broncos have consistently been able to find the best mismatch and exploit it. Through the first quarter Brophy hadn't found that exploitable matchup, but has the second period got under way Horizon's weakness became more obvious.
While senior Brandon Dotson maximizes his talent, the Horizon center's skills were no match for Brophy's talented inside combo of Jake Lewis and Michael Strittmatter. Strittmatter in particular was able to exploit Horizon inside, using his strength and positioning to create easy baskets. By the time Kakad finally connected for the first time (with only 2:45 left in the half) Brophy, though only leading by three, had found their opponent's weakness and were in a position to take control. The lead grew to nine by the end of the half, and it looked as if a rout might be forthcoming.
But as good as T-Soup and Brophy senior Kevin Schneider are defensively, you can only hold a player as talented as Kakad down for so long. Kakad shot only 25% from the floor in the first half, and opened the second trying to distribute the ball and put his teammates in position to score. With 4:37 left in the 3rd quarter Brophy's Strittmatter was hit as he scored and just before the free throw Horizon Coach Randy Walker pulled Kakad to the side and said, "Shoot the ball." Strittmatter hit his free throw and Kakad listened to his coach. After a five point first half for Kakad Horizon started bringing screen after screen for Kakad and the junior responded.
Taking the ball to the basket he scored, drew fouls, or got Brophy's defense so out of position that Horizon was able to get easy put back baskets. The Brophy lead, which had grown to 11 with 3:00 left in the third, began to shrink and the opportunity knocked on a controversial play.
Brophy's Kyle Westphal picked off a Kakad pass and started down the court for what looked like an easy layup. Kakad hustled back and went up with Westphal, blocking the shot. There was contact, and it looked as if Westphal would be going to the line, but the official ruled that the play was clean. A technical foul was called on the Brophy bench after the play and Kakad calmly hit both free throws, cutting the lead to eight as Horizon took the ball out of bounds. Kakad drove to the center of the lane floated a shot up toward the rim, but it did not fall. At several points during the game Horizon seemed to have an opportunity to regain control and cut the lead but by far this was the biggest and they came up short. By the end of the third the lead was back in double digits and Brophy seemed in control.
The fourth quarter was about two things. Horizon getting hot from beyond the arc and Brophy hitting their free throws. Again a key play offered Horizon a chance to come back and again Horizon couldn't convert. Horizon senior Steven Harris intercepted a pass at nearly half court and looked to have an easy layup on the other end of the floor, but Kevin Schneider's incredible hustle looked to thwart that. Schneider was on his own baseline wen the pass was intercepted, but he showed incredible speed to get Harris just as he was releasing the ball. There was no question that it was a foul, but the refs called the foul intentional giving Harris two free throws and Horizon the ball after the penalty shots.
With 3:21 left and Horizon down only eight points Harris stepped to the line but missed both free throws. Horizon took the ball out of bounds, couldn't get a bucket, and what had been a chance to change the tide of the game became a nail in the coffin for the Huskies.
Brophy hit 17 of their 24 free throws in the fourth, sealing the win despite the Huskies hitting four threes in the last three minutes trying to come back. Strittmatter led Brophy with 17 points (including 7/10 from the line) and he was the difference as Horizon's Dotson finished with only six points on one of twelve shooting from the field including a nightmare third quarter where he went 0 for seven from the field.
In what has become a staple of Brophy's offense the scoring was balanced. In addition to Strittmatter's 17, T-Soup had 15 and Kevin Schneider finished with 14 for the Broncos. Kakad led all scorers with 22 but no one else reached double figures for Horizon.
Horizon simply doesn't have enough talent to overcome an off night for both Kakad and Jones.
At some point in time it has to become apparent to the rest of the state that pressing Brophy is a lost cause. With four guards on the floor for most of the game there are just too many adept ball handlers for a press to be effective.
The Brophy inside tandem of Jake Lewis and Michael Strittmatter is smart and potent. Strittmatter in particular brings strength and emotion to the Broncos.
For Horizon to compete somebody besides Kakad and Jones needs to step up. Harris seems the most likely candidate, but sophomore Dax Crum could be the guy.
The defensive play of T-Soup and Kevin Schneider is suffocating, and will frustrate opposing guards all season.
Even with the loss of two Brophy bench players this team is deep at every position except center.