The fast break was in high gear for Taft High during the first half of the Toreadors' game against defending City Section 4-A champion Fairfax on Wednesday.
Taft was running and gunning, and Quincy Watts--one of the nation's top high school sprinters--was supplying most of the run and most of the gun. Watts, a 6-foot, 3-inch senior who shot 75% from the field in his first two games, had 8 points and 5 rebounds in the first half as Taft built a seven-point lead.
But then Taft's break broke.
The offense that had averaged 91.5 points a game in its first two victories dragged through a 17-point second half en route to a 52-49 loss at Taft in the Valley League opener for both teams.
"I don't know how we lost," Taft Coach Jim Woodard said. "We led for 31 minutes."
Woodard's bewilderment was understandable. Taft jumped on top, 16-13, in the first quarter, built its lead to 11 points midway through the second quarter and was still ahead with less than a minute to play.
But Taft (2-1, 0-1) failed to score in the last three minutes of the game and Fairfax quickly took advantage.
"We got very tentative on offense," Woodard said. "We worried about holding the lead instead of free-wheeling it like we did in the first half."
Taft led, 41-31, midway through the third quarter, but Fairfax (2-0, 1-0) scored six unanswered points to cut the Toreador lead to four.
Fairfax stayed within four points of Taft most of the fourth quarter until 6-7 forward Chris Mills scored five consecutive points to put Fairfax ahead, 50-49, with 49 seconds left. Mills, last season's City 4-A player of the year who is headed for Kentucky, hit a 10-foot jumper to pull the Lions to within 49-47. He made a free throw and then tossed in a baseline jumper to give Fairfax its first lead.
"I'm very pleased with the win because, for three quarters, Taft was playing outstanding ball," Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani said. "In the first half, I felt that--especially on the offensive boards--they dominated us. But in the second half, we went with a smaller lineup and it put more pressure on them."
Mills scored 18 of the Lions' 25 first-half points but only 11 of Fairfax's 27 in the second half. Especially impressive was senior guard Andre Durity, who scored all of his 12 points in the second half, had 5 assists and 8 rebounds.
Mills led all scorers with 29 points and added 9 rebounds. Watts had 14 points and 11 rebounds and teammate Anthony Moten added 14 points and 6 rebounds.