The most difficult coaching task in the CIF Southern Section 4-A basketball playoffs may be designing a defense to stop top-seeded Capistrano Valley High School.
Steve Wolf, Rio Mesa coach, tried a 3-2 zone Friday night when the Spartans met the Cougars in a quarterfinal game played at Moorpark College.
But that did little to slow his opponent.
Capistrano Valley rolled to a 75-56 victory in front of 1,500 to advance to the semifinals for the fourth time in the past five years. The Cougars will meet Simi Valley, a 67-59 winner over Rolling Hills, Tuesday night.
Wolf didn't have many options Friday. He could have tried a man-to-man defense, but Capistrano Valley has too much overall height, speed and quickness.
He could have tried a box-and-one, but who would he cover man-to-man?
Cougar point guard Nathan Call can handle anyone. Center John Waikle (6-9) and forward Jason Trask (6-7) are both tall and quick and are excellent rebounders and inside scorers.
You could sag in or double-team Capistrano Valley's big men, but Call and guards Scott Stark and Shawn Reed will burn you from the outside.
Against the zone, the Cougars worked the ball patiently around the outside until they had open shots or they got it inside for easy baskets.
"We are very balanced, and that's why we are such a good team," Cougar Coach Mark Thornton said. "You can't go box-and-one or triangle-and-two against us. We have more individuals who play well on the floor."
Everything came together for Capistrano Valley Friday night. Waikle and Trask each scored 22 points, with Waikle grabbing 13 rebounds and Trask 11. The Cougars outrebounded the Spartans, 40-29.
Call scored 13 points, had 10 assists and 6 steals, and led an effective Cougar fast break. Stark and Reed combined for 10 points, and reserve guard Scott McCullough added 6, including 4 in the first period when Capistrano Valley took a 24-13 lead.
The Spartans (20-6) can take some solace in the fact that they are the first team in the tournament to come within 20 points of the Cougars (27-2). Capistrano Valley disposed of its first two opponents--Redondo and Eisenhower--by scores of 72-44 and 86-52, respectively.
Despite the lopsided score, the Cougars didn't really have the victory secured until the latter half of the fourth quarter.
Rio Mesa, which trailed by as many as 16 points in the third period and by 18 early in the fourth, scored eight straight points, six by reserve Craig Wong, to cut the lead to 10 (60-50) with 4:59 to play.
But Trask took an excellent inside pass from Call to score, and after Waikle blocked Jerry Dawson's shot on defense, Call scored on a driving layup to put the Cougars up by 14 points, 64-50.
With 2:07 left, Call drove the lane and went up against the 6-7 Dawson. Call transferred the ball from his right hand to his left, scored the basket, drew a foul and converted the three-point play to give Capistrano Valley a 69-52 lead.
The Cougars looked invincible in the first quarter. They made their first 10 shots from the field until Waikle finally missed from the inside at the 1:56 mark. Six Capistrano Valley players scored in the quarter, while the Cougars held the Spartans scoreless for more than four minutes to take an 11-point lead.
Capistrano Valley cooled off in the second quarter, however, and that allowed Rio Mesa to get back into the game. A three-point play by Garett Worden, who led Spartan scorers with 17 points, cut it to 28-24 with 5:35 to go in the half.
But the Cougars, who had been missing from the outside, got their running game going and closed the quarter with five straight points to build an 11-point lead (39-28) heading into the second half.