Moments after the Torrey Pines boys’ basketball team had completed a 74-43 drubbing of visiting Poway in the Friday night’s CIF Open Division tournament opener, the arena speakers were blaring the good time ‘70’s Sister Sledge classic “We Are Family.”
It was an appropriate selection for the night’s activities because it was truly a “family” effort on the part of third-seeded Torrey Pines and from the outset, it felt like the Falcons (25-4) were having a party. Coach John Olive’s squad grabbed the lead right out of the gate, staggered the Titans with a 25-4 second quarter blitz, were up 44-19 at intermission and refused to take their foot off the pedal in the second half.
“That was probably the best we’ve played for an entire game all year,” smiled Olive in the locker room following his team’s 14th consecutive win. “It’s what you hope for from a team, that they’re playing their best at the end of the year.”
Six-foot-eight senior forward Brandon Angel knocked down a game high 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, pulled down five rebounds and along with junior guard Chris Howell seemed to constantly be in the middle of the action for a team that had everything working up-and-down the lineup.
“The big thing Coach Olive talks about is imposing our will from the start and I think we took that to heart tonight,” said the Stanford-bound Angel. “We’ve been down all too many times in the back half of this season so in these last three games we’ve really put an emphasis on coming out from the jump and playing Torrey Pines basketball.
“We’ve all bought in, we’re playing together as a team and that showed on the court, the way the ball’s moving around, everybody’s involved—we’re having fun out there.”
Piercing the Torrey Pines defense was problematic for Poway and the Titans couldn’t control a fast-breaking Falcon offense either, one that was feeding off the boards and turnovers generated on the other end.
Joining Angel with double figures in the scoring column were juniors Howell (14) and Cameron Klein (11) as the Olive’s efficient attack connected at a 58% clip from the field. Howell also registered team highs with six rebounds and six assists. It was a physical, up-tempo, baseline-to-baseline, match-up that made up for in entertainment value what it lacked in drama.
Interestingly, though it ended with Howell nursing a swollen right eye and Poway’s leading scorer, point guard Adam Sevier (18 pts.), playing in pain after severely hurting his left wrist, Torrey Pines only went to the free throw line five times while Poway took 11. From Klein’s viewpoint, the pace favored the Falcons.
“Transition, both ways, was key for us tonight,” said Klein, who had eight of his 11 points in the second quarter barrage and is one of a slew of players who compliment stars Angel and Howell, but are reliable and confident when called upon. “We were really running the floor well, beating them to the offensive end and getting back on defense.
“We were so prepared, just totally dialed in for this game.” Preparation was a theme Olive also touched on.
“We had a whole week, which was nice, between our last game and tonight and we needed it,” said Olive. “We had five games in 10 days to end the regular season with very little practice. We got seven days in leading up to this one and got a lot accomplished.”
The victory was Torrey Pines second this year over Poway and the second time in a row Olive & Co. have pushed the Titans out in the tournament’s quarterfinal round. Looking to become the first school to win back-to-back titles in the short history of the Open Division and the first to take consecutive banners in the section’s top division since El Camino in 2003-04, the Falcons will now hook up with No. 2-seeded St. Augustine Wednesday. The winner advances to Saturday’s championship game at UC San Diego’s RIMAC Arena. Torrey suffered one of its four losses against St. Augustine, in the late December Holiday Classic. The Saints have won four of the last five meetings between the two schools, one in the 2017 Open Division championship tilt.
For Olive, one of San Diego’s premier prep coaches, this year’s squad may be among his finest products—an almost entirely new roster that’s in position to potentially match the accomplishments of its veteran-laden predecessor. And they’ve done it in tried and true Olive fashion.
“Program, culture—that’s how it’s always been,” said Olive when asked the secret to this team’s success. “They learn from the kids that graduated the year before and those kids learned from the kids that graduated before them.
“We share the ball. We know the guys who should be getting the majority of the shots and we get the ball in their hands. But all of our players are not afraid to shoot if they’re open. This is just an unselfish team.” Just like a family.