Kris Yanku, a 6-foot-3 junior guard at Woodland Hills Taft, is known as a defensive whiz. He wants to be the player assigned to come up with the big stop with the game on the line. And he delivered on Wednesday in a tension-filled West Valley League basketball opener against neighborhood rival El Camino Real.
Taft hadn't lost a league game on the court since 2005, but El Camino Real had the Toreadors right where it wanted them. The Conquistadores had possession of the ball with 10.9 seconds left, down by a point.
El Camino Real inbounded the ball in the backcourt to sophomore point guard Maleke Haynes, with Yanku all over him. Haynes dribbled to the frontcourt, then faced a challenge from 6-foot-6 Brandon Perry helping Yanku. Haynes never got a shot off. Yanku came up with a steal just before the buzzer sounded, and Taft came away with a 45-44 victory.
"I liked how the coaches let me guard their best player the last play of the game," Yanku said. "I tried to get the stop. Brandon helped. He showed the ball and I took it."
For first-year Coach Jason Hart, the victory showed his team is beginning to listen to him. He has been preaching unselfishness on defense, as in helping one another. And that execution of help defense saved the Toreadors (12-3, 1-0).
El Camino Real Coach David Rebibo said his team was supposed to set a screen for Haynes on the final play, but it never materialized. Despite the defeat, the Conquistadores (9-6, 0-1) had much to be excited about, considering they play in City Section Division II and are loaded with young players.
"We made some immature plays at times, but if our effort is like that every game, we'll be very competitive," he said.
The Conquistadores outhustled and outfought the Toreadors inside to neutralize Perry and 6-7 Anthony January. Perry finished with 15 points.
"We usually pound it inside," Yanku said. "They weren't really giving us the fouls, so we had to adjust and fight through it and figure a way to pull out the win."
Sophomore Julian Richardson scored 17 points and junior Michael Thomas had 11 points for El Camino Real.