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Prep Wrapup : Torrance Does Much Better Than Expected

February 05, 1989|Rob Fernas

Anyone who has seen the movie "Hoosiers," the true story of a small, outmanned high school basketball team that beats the odds to win the Indiana state championship, can relate to how Carl Strong feels these days.

Strong, coach of a similar group of overachievers at Torrance High, is riding a high that comes from watching a team perform beyond expectations.

Torrance was the pre-season pick of the Bay League coaches to finish last. Well, not only have the Tartars avoided the cellar, they are alone in second place in a competitive eight-team league and have clinched a spot in the Southern Section 4-AA Division playoffs.

"I'm so proud of the kids," Strong said. "I think it pleases them, too. They can walk around school and feel proud, and that's a neat feeling."

The Tartars were the only Bay League team to go 3-0 this week, taking over undisputed second place at 9-3 and improving to 14-8 overall. Their victims, in order, were Palos Verdes, 74-60, Inglewood, 95-76, and Leuzinger, 84-80.

That's a lot better than Strong expected.

With his top player questionable because of a knee injury suffered in a car accident, Strong entered the week wondering if the Tartars could win one game, let alone three.

"I thought we might be able to play with PV," he said. "Then I thought we would have to be very fortunate. I was looking at a loss with Inglewood."

Then he got the good news. Rick Robison, Torrance's hot-shot junior guard, was diagnosed Monday as having bruised ligaments in his left knee. The injury might make it painful to play, but would not put Robison in danger of suffering further damage.

"Rick doesn't take to sitting on the bench real well," Strong said. "He told his mom (last weekend) he was going to play."

A determined Robison continued his dazzling offensive season by scoring 20 points against Palos Verdes, 37 against Inglewood and 33 in Friday night's win over Leuzinger, including three free throws in the final 24 seconds to clinch the game. The 6-foot, 145-pounder with the slick crewcut and quick shooting release entered the week leading the South Bay in scoring with a 28.1-point average.

But Strong is quick to point out that Torrance is far from a one-man team.

He said Torrance's success is based on each starter properly carrying out his role. The players and their duties:

--Robison is the shooting guard, the first player the Tartars look to for scoring. He's among the top three-point shooters in the area.

--Point guard Raymond Wang (5-9) is responsible for distributing the ball and taking care of it. He was leading the South Bay in assists as of last week, averaging 9.7 per game.

--Small forward Matt Cummins (6-0) contributes in nearly every category. Not a flashy player, but a steady one, he scored 22 points in Friday night's win over Leuzinger.

--Power forward Toby Wollard (6-4) does well when he sticks to his strengths of defense, rebounding and inside play. Strong considers him the team's best athlete.

--Center Art Terrill (6-5) is probably Torrance's second-best player behind Robison. He "cleans the boards," as Strong says, and possesses a nice touch around the basket.

It's been rewarding for Strong, in his fourth year as the Tartars' head coach, to watch this group mature and improve.

The coach admittedly had his doubts on how much they could achieve after opening the season with a dismal 0-3 showing in the La Quinta Tournament in Westminster. Included in the losses was a 25-point setback to West Torrance.

"We were embarrassed in Orange County," Strong said. "Teams got well against us. We couldn't handle pressure and we were lax defensively."

The season began to turn around when the Tartars returned home and played host to the eight-team Torrance Tournament. They avenged the loss to West in the semifinals and then beat Bishop Montgomery in the final, as Robison was named most valuable player.

"I thought we'd be close to a .500 team overall," Strong said, "but the league scared me."

His fears turned to jubilation on Jan. 13 when the Tartars, overcoming an 11-point half-time deficit, rallied to defeat Inglewood, 85-75, at Inglewood behind a 43-point effort by Robison. It gave Torrance a 4-0 Bay record and served notice to the rest of the league that the Tartars were for real.

"I think the second half of the first Inglewood game was as good as I've ever seen one of my teams play," Strong said. "We were just magnificent. Matt Cummins played outstanding defense, Art (Terrill) cleaned the boards, Toby (Wollard) played super defense and Ray (Wang) got the ball to the right people. It was an amazing game.

"One parent came up to me afterward and said, 'Coach, if you never win another game, this is worth it.' "

Apparently, Torrance didn't agree.

Rolling Hills clinched at least a tie for its third consecutive Bay League title Friday night with an 83-61 win over visiting Santa Monica, avenging its only home loss in four years under Coach Cliff Warren.

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