There are two theories in figuring the Bay League boys basketball race: Either the balance of power has shifted, or--at least this season--there is no real power.
Friday night's results, as most CIF teams opened league play, set up an early showdown for next week and provided one stunning upset, as Torrance downed league favorite Palos Verdes, 52-50, in overtime.
That left West Torrance, which easily defeated South Torrance, 72-44, and Rolling Hills, which beat North Torrance, 86-69, eyeing each other as they prepare to play Wednesday at Rolling Hills.
Since Santa Monica was shifted to the Ocean League, Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills have ruled the Bay League, with the Torrance schools on the outside looking in.
One school of thought is that West High has now reached the eminence of the two Peninsula schools and may even have passed them. Wednesday's results will be indicative, though not necessarily conclusive.
The other theory is that, unlike last season when Rolling Hills had a superior team and Palos Verdes was a close second, there is no true standout this time around. Torrance, South and North are clearly the lower half of the league, but--as Torrance illustrated Friday--are capable of rising up and beating their oppressors.
"Any team in this league will give you a ball game," West Coach Dan McGee said. "You've got to be ready to play."
With Palos Verdes struggling lately, West and Rolling Hills are staking claims to the top spot. Torrance Coach Carl Strong votes for West, at least for now. "West is playing the best ball right now of anybody in the league," he said.
In swamping South, West High showed most of its facets: an active full-court trap press, which the Warriors play the entire game, a good fast break run by guards Denny Hocking and Phil Bendik, good shooting--Hocking hit three three-pointers--and a sound inside game featuring Tim Stowe and burly Jason Arquisch. All four players scored in double figures Friday night.
This is also the most aggressive West team in several years. "Some of these kids are three-year varsity players," McGee said, "They want to win. They play hard. They work hard."
West beat Rolling Hills in the first week of the season, 80-79. The Titans undoubtedly will get some motivation from that. However, McGee says that game is ancient history.
"That was so long ago, you kind of forget about it," he said. "We've gotten better and we know that they've gotten better. . . . I look at the league season as a completely different situation. Teams have seen you for a month, know what you do and can prepare for you. What you did in nonleague (games) doesn't necessarily mean you're going to do that in league."
All West has done so far is build a 12-3 record. Rolling Hills is 11-4. The Titans coasted against North High, building a 43-26 half-time lead. John Hardy scored 24 points and Mark Tesar had 22 including four three-pointers.
Palos Verdes, which played a challenging nonleague schedule, has struggled lately to a 9-6 record. Torrance has had a rough start and is 4-10.
Things didn't look promising for the Tartars when their point guard, Jerrold Balcom, and leading scorer, Brian Sabunas, got into foul trouble and sat out much of the second half.
When the game went into overtime tied at 50, Torrance Coach Strong decided he didn't have many options. The Tartars held the ball most of the extra period.
"In that situation, we just couldn't play three minutes of ball," Strong said. "I wanted to shorten the game as much as possible. They sat back in a zone, so I thought our best chance to win was run the clock down and play a 30-second game."
The strategy worked. Torrance held the ball until the 19-second mark, then Balcom hit a bank shot to win it. Sabunas scored 19 points and hit five of six from three-point range to help keep Torrance in the game. The Tartars shot 21-of-35 (60%) from the floor.
"We've had a really difficult time in jelling . . . we've been lacking experience and not knowing what our strengths are," Strong said. "Last night we were very selective in our shots. We played very, very well. Truthfully, they (Palos Verdes) had to be looking past us a little bit. I don't know if we can beat them again, but I'll take this one."
A new contender is rising in the Ocean League, where traditional power Santa Monica lost to upstart Beverly Hills, which improved its record to 15-1 with the 53-50 victory.
The other league favorite, Inglewood, was on its game, dropping Hawthorne, 68-51. Harold Miner scored 25 points and Tommy Holland added 22. The surprisingly easy victory improved Inglewood's record to 8-6.
Perennial Angelus League contender St. Bernard came up a point short against Bishop Amat, 75-74, but that may be more an indication of Amat's strength than any St. Bernard shortcomings. Amat is now 14-1, while St. Bernard is 11-4. A promising note for the Vikings was the play of junior center Edward Stokes, who missed much of the preseason with an injury. He scored 17 points.