Josh Willis presented some unusual problems for the Saugus High basketball team. So the Centurions found an unusual solution.
Uncharacteristically employing a zone defense for 32 minutes Tuesday night against visiting Crescenta Valley, Saugus held Willis, a versatile 6-foot-6 guard, in check long enough to score a 56-49 nonleague victory.
"That was our plan because, to be honest, I didn't think we could guard them man to man," Saugus Coach John Clark said.
Clark, whose team lost back-to-back games last week to close out the Beverly Hills tournament, admitted that a lack of time to prepare for Tuesday's game forced him to gamble by going to a zone.
"I've watched them and they do a lot of great stuff for Willis," he said. "I couldn't teach my kids in a day how to guard against stuff like lobs for dunks."
Moreover Crescenta Valley (5-4), which began the season with five consecutive wins, started three players who stood at least 6-4. Saugus' tallest starter, Chris Hernandez, is 6-3.
However, the undersized Centurions grabbed a 6-0 lead and never trailed, maintaining at least a three-point advantage throughout the game.
Willis, an All-Pacific League selection last season, scored a team-high 15 points, but was held to only five in the first half.
More important, Willis was limited to only five shots in the first half. He finished five of 16 from the field and missed his last four shots in the fourth quarter. Many of Willis' attempts appeared hurried.
"They were shifting, so I couldn't get the outside shots," Willis said. "The shots I took weren't falling. I'm getting used to this. I'm going to be seeing a lot of it."
Said Crescenta Valley Coach John Goffredo: "I'll have to be honest: We weren't ready for a zone."
Josh Hinrichs led all scorers with 20 points for Saugus (6-2). But Steve Tampus appeared to be more effective, scoring 19 points, including six in the final quarter.
After Crescenta Valley pulled to within 44-41 with six minutes to play, Tampus buried two consecutive short jump shots to snuff the threat.
Tampus also scored six consecutive points in the first quarter to help Saugus close the quarter with an 18-11 lead.