If Coach Jon Chapman had any concern that the Culver City High School boys basketball squad might be discouraged going into Wednesday night's last regular season home game, his fears disappeared early in the third quarter of a 69-54 victory over Hawthorne.
The win meant the Centaurs (13-12, 4-5) can finish .500 in the Ocean League if they defeat archrival Culver City on the road Thursday night. Senior Aamahd Walker paced the team against Hawthorne, finishing with 24 points, eight assists and four rebounds, while Keilan Horton added 18 points and five rebounds as the host Centaurs outscored their opponents 38-29 in the second half.
"We're doing the job that we need to do on the defensive end, but we have to do a much better job on the offensive end," Hawthorne Coach Ben Wardrop said at halftime, when the Cougars trailed 31-25. "We're getting good shots so we've just gotta' make 'em."
Things only got worse for Hawthorne as the game progressed, however. Justin Montgomery scored six points, Aarman Kani and Chris Sanchez each had five and center Isaiah Taylor had three points and six rebounds for Culver City.
"I stayed out of foul trouble today, I was ready and I tried to contribute," Taylor said. "I'll be ready to play Thursday against Beverly [Hills] in the last game of the season. We have to come out and play harder than we did today if we want to beat them."
Beverly Hills (15-9, 5-4) is third in the league standings, one game ahead of Culver City. The Normans are riding high after a 55-46 upset over defending champion Inglewood, which knocked the Sentinels out of a first-place tie with Santa Monica.
"There were some good spots but a lot of times it looked like we lacked effort," Chapman said. "One of the objectives was to make sure we got some seniors some playing time. The game was never that far in hand until the very end."
The Centaurs started slowly but gradually picked up the tempo, celebrating their Senior Night with a 71-52 victory over Hawthorne at Goodyear Gym that kept them undefeated at the top of the Ocean League standings with one game remaining.
"One more to go... I'm tired," Coach Julian Anderson said. "We built this thing where we're not playing as hard in the first half as the second half. The seniors work just as hard and I brought them in early to get some playing time."
Jade Neal had 17 points, Lunden Junious had 13 points, Kelsey Ueda had 11 and Taylor Tanita added nine for the Centaurs, who trailed 31-27 at halftime before outscoring the Cougars 21-11 in the third quarter and 23-10 in the fourth.
"I'm excited and I'm glad we got this far but we want to get that big one--CIF," said Junious, who is looking forward to Thursday's regular season finale against archrival Beverly Hills. "Every team has their little challenges here and there, but we work pretty hard."
Culver City (18-7, 9-0) has won nine of its last 10 games and beat Beverly Hills decisively, 74-52, in the teams' first meeting Jan. 25.
"A lot of us had a lot of emotion this game, we had to pick it up in the second half and we did," senior guard Jade Neal added. "We have to take it one game at a time, we have to be positive and we have to be aggressive every game."
The girls game Thurday tips off at 6 p.m., followed by the boys game at 7:30 p.m. at Beverly Hills.