Glendale High School's starting front line was putting on this "watch-us-almost-dunk" pregame show Friday night, and the Capistrano Valley fans filing into Saddleback College gym were beginning to get an idea of what the Cougars were up against in the Southern Section 4-A quarterfinal playoff game.
Dunking is not allowed in warmups, so 6-foot 8-inch Jan Svoboda, 6-7 Bob Mulcahey and 6-5 Fred Bickett were just flying up and dropping the ball through the hoop, but the message was clear: The top-seeded Dynamites planned to play above the rim--and the Cougars, whose tallest starter is 6-4.
Capo Valley Coach Mark Thornton didn't need to see any pregame layup drills to be convinced. He was all ready with a tightly packed zone defense, specially designed to neutralize Glendale's height advantage.
And then a funny thing happened. The Dynamiters' inside game was a flop. The smaller Cougars controlled the boards and abandoned their zone for a pressure man-to-man. And Glendale had to rely on a 6-2 guard to lead it to a 58-55 victory. Glendale (26-0) meets Lynwood, a 79-75 winner over John W. North Friday night, in the semifinals next week.
That senior guard Rich Grande came through with the game on the line is hardly a surprise. Grande, a 20-point-per-game scorer who will attend USC, scored nine points in the fourth quarter, including two crucial free throws with 12 seconds remaining as the Dynamiters held off a furious Capo Valley rally.
Glendale was ahead by 10 points (49-39) with just 2:54 left to play when Coach Steve Keith signalled his team into a four-corner (stall) offense. And that's when things started to unravel. The Cougars, who finished 22-6, were scrambling on both ends of the court, and the ball was bouncing their way.
Capo Valley outscored the Dynamiters, 8-2, in a frantic minute and a half midway through the fourth quarter and cut Glendale's lead to 51-49. But Grande (who finished with 23 points) and Bickett combined to make 7 of 8 free throws in the final 40 seconds to clinch the win.
"We saw early that we could play them man-to-man, so we abandoned the zone," Thornton said. "I'm not really surprised we outrebounded them (32-22), not with the way our kids played. We just had that one flat spell early in the fourth quarter and that was the difference in the game."
Glendale outscored the Cougars by one point in each of the first two quarters and the teams both scored 11 points in the third. But the last two points of that quarter may have been the most pivotal.
Grande dribbled around most of the Cougar defense before scoring on a flying, twisting layup as the buzzer sounded to end the third quarter.
He obviously ended up at a high school with an appropriate nickname. The Dynamiters have "Nitros" inscribed on their uniforms, but anyway you say it, this kid is definitely explosive.
Then, in case any of the 2,100 in the standing-room-only crowd missed the first spectacular drive, Grande gave an instant replay seconds into the fourth quarter to ignite a 10-4 Glendale spree.
"Grande made three or four terrible plays tonight and his ballhandling was below par," Keith said. "But he's a fearless player, the kind who's not afraid to have the ball when it counts, and the other players feed off him. Some nights, you've just got to give him the reins and suck up his mistakes."
Grande had a breakaway after beating the Cougars' zone press early in the second half and lost the ball out of bounds as he went up, all alone, for the lay in. The crowd hooted with delight, but Grande never lost his poise.
"I blocked it out. I never thought of it again," he said. "I just wasn't concentrating, but I was on those last two free throws, huh?" he asked with a wink.
Glendale has now won 51 straight games counting summer league play. The streak started with a win over Mater Dei (also undefeated this season), but Keith wasn't ready to hear any comparisons after this one.
"I had two things to say at the half," he said, "One was about our inability to defend inside and the other was the way we were getting our butts kicked on the boards.
"Being 6-8 doesn't mean much if you're not gonna play. You might as well be 6-2. Our front line forgot to show up in the first half."
They may have left their game in the pregame almost-jamming contest. In any case, Svoboda rebounded to score 12 second-half points and finished with 19 points (hitting 8 of 12 from the floor) and 7 rebounds. Mulcahey also had seven rebounds and four points (including one real dunk), and Bickett made those four pressure free throws.
Capistrano Valley center Reid Lukes (6-4) gave Glendale's big boys a lesson in positioning and scored 17 points. Guard Gregg Bujnovsky (14 points) put on a clutch shooting display, sinking three long jumpers in the final two minutes, and guard Nathan Call epitomized his team's gutsy play when he took about 30 seconds to have his dislocated index finger straightened before returning to action.
"I think we gave them all they wanted tonight," Thornton said.
Then he went over and shook Keith's hand and said, "You beat us, now go all the way."