The latest first-round mismatch involving a Central Section boys Division I basketball champion against a Southern California opponent – and does it really matter who – occurred at Bullard High on Tuesday night.
This one had Etiwanda – with a locally tied coach, USC-bound forward and terrific half-court defense – defeat the Knights 69-49.
The section has lost five straight D-I first-rounders at home, and only one has been close – Clovis East's 67-65 decision to Santa Monica last year. Before that, Edison lost 70-49 to Fairfax-Los Angeles and Clovis East lost 89-64 to El Camino-Oceanside and Dorsey-Los Angeles 89-66.
This season, with the majority of the section's best teams small, Bullard included, it figured that a SoCal power would march into Fresno County and deliver damage inside – again.
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Sure enough, the Eagles – a week after nearly knocking off the state's No. 1-ranked Long Beach Poly – had their way behind Byron Wesley and Tyler Lacour.
Wesley, the 6-foot-5, 200-pound USC signee, had 18 points and 11 rebounds; Lacour, a 6-3, 220-pound left-hander, added 18 points.
Etiwanda coach Dave Kleckner said he didn't bother to scout 27-7 Bullard, which won its first section title in 15 years with a 54-51 conquest of top-seeded Clovis West on Saturday at Selland Arena.
"We've got a lot of talented offensive guys," said Kleckner, who assisted then-Kings River coach Keith Hughes for two years in the late '80s after having played at Arizona State earlier in the decade when Hughes was an assistant there.
"Keith's my mentor," said Kleckner, who has transferred the in-your-face, man-to-man defense he learned from Hughes to Etiwanda, located 45 miles east of Los Angeles.
"The half-court defense is their staple," Bullard coach Tony Amundsen said, "and it's the best I've seen this season – by far. We average 70 points a game. There's a reason we went into a little bit of a scoring drought."
Still, on a night the Knights appeared buried, 35-15, late in the first half, they actually would have a chance.
Two Mike Hill drives and a Chris Russell layup following his own steal hacked the lead to 46-38 with 2 minutes left in the third quarter.
A shoulder-to-shoulder Bullard student body – never discouraged, even by the previous 20-point deficit – now was really letting it rip. And the students were about to explode when the Knights had two possessions with the score at 46-38.
Bullard, however, missed two free throws and an uncontested 3-pointer and Etiwanda – which seemingly could turn it on at will – responded with a Lacour jump hook and a Jordan Daniels fast-break layup.
The Knights never threatened again.
"Of course, you want to win every game," Amundsen said, "but I'm very, very happy with the outcome of the season."