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Cougars locked down
Defense stifling in TWolves win
Weston Ranch’s Griffin Alexander gets his layup attempt off before Sierra’s Trevor Nogueira could challenge the shot. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO
WESTON RANCH – It was a big game in terms of Valley Oak League positioning, and both the Sierra and Weston Ranch played tight to start Friday night’s contest.

But after a clunky first half in which neither side could buy a bucket, Sierra picked up the pace in the second half, committing just one turnover in both the second and third quarters and running away with a dominant 61-36 win.

“We haven’t been playing well on Fridays,” Sierra head coach Scott Thomason said. “I told them, ‘Guys, Friday night’s the best time to play.’ We knew it was a big game, we knew they’d come after us, so for us to kind of get after them the way we did, it was pretty impressive.”

Christian Williams wasn’t quite himself in the first half. Although he was able to work for open shots, more often than not, Williams’ efforts barely rimmed out.

But scorers can’t stop shooting, and that’s exactly the tack Williams took.  It paid off, as Sierra’s point guard eventually found his touch and scored a game-high 23.

Once again though, it was Sierra’s supporting cast that had to come through, and it did for Thomason.

“The big guys really worked hard,” he said. “Chris Choate (11 points) was battling. He takes charges. He defends. He gets putbacks. David Keating (8 points) busted his butt. Robert Plunk, Serge (Veretennikov), those guys were warriors tonight and that was the difference.”

Keating played the yin to Williams’ yang early on, scoring four first-quarter points and working the rim for four boards. But it was Choate (12 rebounds, four offensive) who took over in the second half.

Choate’s first of three offensive putbacks fell at the 3:20 mark of the third and it was accompanied by a whistle. After the 6-foot, 4-inch center drained the free-throw, Sierra enjoyed a 36-25 lead.

Williams then nailed back-to-back spot-up 3-pointers, making it 45-25. As Williams trotted back to the defensive end, he motioned for Weston Ranch to call a timeout moments before Cougars head coach Ryan Bono called for the break.

“We talked about team play,” Bono said. “I don’t feel we played as a team tonight. I tip my hat to Sierra, they played great defense, but as a team, at times we get selfish.”

Said Thomason: “Our matchup zone defense really bothered them. We want to start off with man-to-man, that’s our bread and butter, but they have a lot of quick guys and they were getting around us, so we went to the zone.”

Choate’s third putback to start the fourth gave the T’Wolves a 22-point lead.

The rest of the way was a formality.

“We came in with the mentality to compete,” Veretennikov said. “This was a must-win for us to get back in the VOL race with Manteca.”

Ronnie Collins paced the Cougars with six.

Sierra is now 7-0 when committing less than 12 turnovers, with four of those victories coming on the road.

The T’Wolves (6-1 VOL, 13-4 overall) host Central Valley Wednesday.

The Cougars (4-2, 9-9) travel to Ceres.