Free throws, rebounding hurt California boys in loss

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MCMURRAY – California boys basketball coach Phil Pergola wasn’t aware of how many free throws the Trojans missed, especially in the fourth quarter.


Brentwood’s Dave Mislan didn’t know Michael Kish’s rebound total.


Both oversights were understandable, though, considering those numbers grew relatively large.


And decided Saturday’s WPIAL Class AA preliminary round game, a 56-50 win for Brentwood at Peters Township.


California made just 13 of 28 attempts from the free-throw line, including four of 15 in the fourth quarter, and Kish proved to be a gigantic matchup problem, finishing with 20 points and 25 rebounds.


“This will be our fourth loss this season,” senior guard Brian Fisher said. “I think free throws have been a big part of every single one of our losses. It’s been our Achilles’ heel all season.”


California guard Tanner Huffman played AAU ball with Kish and knew the 6-5, 250-pound Akron football recruit would likely give the Trojans (18-4) fits.


“You saw the big guy out there. He was huge,” Huffman said. “We didn’t have anyone to match up with him.”


Another difference was the job Brentwood (13-9) did defensively on Huffman, who came into the game as the area’s leading scorer at 23.4 points per game.


Mislan went with the Spartans’ typical man-to-man defense and shadowed Huffman with Justin Vickless, who’s perhaps Brentwood’s most athletic player.


If Huffman drove, Vickless got help. Never, under any circumstance, was Vickless to switch off to help a teammate.


“You give one guy, and you’re not stopping (Huffman),” Mislan said. “He’s too active, and he’s too smart. He’s as good a passer as I’ve seen. He gets all the attention for how much scoring he does. He gave those other guys easy baskets every game I watched on film.”


Fellow senior Brian Fisher helped out with 24 points, and Evan Patterson added nine. Brentwood got 19 points from Jason Pilarski, and nobody else had more than five.


California, which never led, cut the deficit to one point on a Fisher layup with 1:35 left in the fourth, but Brentwood scored the final six points of the game, all on free throws.


Huffman had a pair of long three-pointers rim out in the final 35 seconds.


“We had our chances,” Pergola said. “More than enough.”


Brentwood had a 13-6 lead late in the first quarter, but Huffman scored on a layup with 35 seconds left to cut the deficit to 13-8 after one.


In the second, Brentwood led by as many as nine – 28-17 following a putback from Kish, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds in the first half – before Jake Columbus scored on a tip-in and Fisher finished a Huffman steal to slice Brentwood’s lead to 27-22 by halftime.


Fisher scored all 14 of California’s points in the third, helping the Trojans creep to within one on a three-point play with 1:06 to go in the period, but Brentwood got two quick baskets, the second a three from Pilarski, to push the lead back to six.


The 50 points were a season-low for California, which came into this one shooting 59 percent (220 of 371) from the free throw line.


“It’s not that we haven’t worked on it,” Huffman said of the free throws. “We’ve been in there gym. We shot poorly from the free throw line against Charleroi, and we’ve been in the gym this past week just drilling free throws. I guess you get in the game, you get worn out because we only go six- or seven-deep. Not making excuses, but I think that’s what did it at the end.


“You get tired at the end of the game, and you have to focus. I think that hurt.”


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