Bob Johnson must be happy that his Granada Hills High basketball team does not have to play San Fernando again in league competition.
"I just don't know how to slow them down," he said.
And neither has anyone else in the Northwest Valley League. Coach Dick Crowell's Tigers all but assured themselves of the league title with a 90-76 win Wednesday at Granada Hills.
The win was San Fernando's second against Granada Hills and left the Tigers (11-4, 6-0 in league play) with a two-game lead over second-place Granada Hills (8-5, 4-2) with four games to play.
"I felt like we played a lot better this time," said Johnson, shaking his head. "But we couldn't quite get over the top. They just turned it on in the third and fourth quarters."
Guards Joe Mauldin and Tory Stephens, San Fernando's bald-headed backcourt playmakers, turned a 39-33 halftime lead into a near rout in the second half with no-look passes, three-point shots and flashy layups.
Stephens finished with a game-high 29 points, including five three-point shots. Mauldin, who consistently hit an oft-open Stephens in the corner for those long-distance buckets, contributed 22 points, including 9 of 13 free throws.
"Joe and Tory are everything together," Crowell said. "They've been playing together since they were in junior high school. A lot of the stuff they do, I don't even coach."
Said Stephens: "Joe just knows when to give me the ball. We play a lot together on weekends."
It was Mauldin, however, who started out with the hotter hand. The 6-2 senior scored four points in the first quarter. Stephens was 0 for 2 behind the three-point line and San Fernando fell behind, 17-13.
In the second quarter, however, Stephens exploded for 14 points as the Tigers regained the lead.
Crowell knew it was only a matter of time before the Tigers started flying.
"We got into the flow of things and started playing," he said. "I know that when a team that's an underdog comes out and plays physically and emotionally, it's only a matter of time before they go flat."
The Highlanders, however, did not wilt. After Duane Heller made a baseline jumper to give San Fernando its biggest lead, 52-37, Granada Hills center Alvin Brown began to muscle inside. Brown, who finished with 26 points, scored eight in each of the final two quarters.
"He goes under them and around them," Johnson said of Brown. "I felt he played a lot better this time too."
Brown's short bank shot trimmed the Tigers' lead to 63-54 early in the fourth quarter. But the remainder of the game was a battle of three-point shots between Stephens and Amir Hatam.
Hatam, who finished with 11 points, made consecutive shots from behind the line as Granada Hills pulled to within 65-60. Hatam added a third three-point shot.
But Stephens, with assists from Mauldin, countered with two three-point shots and a layup to give the Tigers a safe 73-60 lead.