Bell-Jeff High won a share of the Santa Fe League title with a convincing 73-59 victory over Cathedral on Friday night at Bell-Jeff, but the turning point in the season came five weeks ago.
That's when the Guards lost consecutive league games to Chaminade and Harvard to find themselves in third place with a 3-2 league record.
"That was one of the lowest points in my coaching career," 10th-year Bell-Jeff Coach Joe Dunn said. "We had too many kids playing as individuals and not enough kids playing as a team. And we had kids missing practices."
Junior forward Nick Sanderson, who scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Cathedral, agreed.
"Some of us weren't executing," he said. "Some of us weren't doing our jobs. And the guys who were doing their jobs were trying to do too much."
Since that two-game skid, Bell-Jeff (16-6, 12-2 in league play) has won nine consecutive games, including two victories over Cathedral (18-5, 12-2).
During that streak, the Guards have won by an average of 20 points a game with a ball-hawking defense and a fast-paced offense.
The Guards used both of those qualities to their advantage against Cathedral, outplaying the Phantoms from start to finish.
"We really wanted this one badly," said Greg Dunn, the coach's son, who scored a team-high 26 points, including 12 of 13 free throws. "We wanted to prove that we had the best team."
No one in attendance would argue with him, not after watching Bell-Jeff surge to a 22-7 first-quarter lead.
The Guards extended their lead to 26-9 at the beginning of the second quarter on two Mike Lattanzio free throws, but Cathedral did not fold.
The Phantoms, led by 5-9 junior Louis Fuentes, scored the next seven points to get back in the game.
Fuentes scored five points during the streak, including a particularly impressive baseline drive.
Bell-Jeff then went into the four-corners offense it frequently employs--not to intentionally slow down the game but to protect Dunn and Dyer, who each had two fouls.
"They had us on the run a little," Joe Dunn admitted. "So I went to the four corners and it worked to our advantage."
With Bell-Jeff's defense tightening the screws on Cathedral's offense, Henry Polee--who scored 13 points and grabbed 6 rebounds--Dunn and Sanderson proceeded to hit 8 of 8 free throws in the next two minutes.
Although they failed to convert a field goal, the Guards suddenly had a 34-16 advantage.
"Those three guys are 80% free-throw shooters," Joe Dunn explained. "I figured the four corners was the best offense to use at that stage of the game."
Although Cathedral scored the last six points of the period, the Phantoms never quite recovered.
Behind Javier Montenegro, the Phantoms narrowed the deficit to 45-37 with 2:30 to play in the third period, but a three-point basket by Dunn followed a layup by Ray Witt to give Bell-Jeff a 50-37 lead with 1:38 left in the quarter.
Cathedral, led by Montenegro's game-high 29 points, got no closer than 10 thereafter.