Manteca High wanted to send a message to the pundits keeping close watch on the Sac-Joaquin Section’s boys basketball scene.
That message: We’re better than you believe.
The Buffaloes began the night one game ahead of Weston Ranch in the Valley Oak League standings but trailed the Cougars in the latest MaxPreps rankings.
That didn’t sit too well with Manteca, who set out to prove its worth the only way it knew how — on the floor.
Anand Hundal scored a career-high 37 points and the Buffaloes blitzed Weston Ranch early to complete its sweep of the season series, 77-62.
Manteca pulled away with an 18-5 run to close the first quarter and never looked back, seizing its sixth straight victory.
“We had to come out and prove a point that we were better than them,” Hundal said.
The 6-foot, 8-inch center hammered home that point, using every last nail, tack and screw in his ever-expanding tool belt. Hundal scored on spin moves, offensive rebounds, free-throw line jumpers and hook shots.
About the only shot he didn’t show was the dunk, though he had a clear chance in the fourth with the Buffaloes leading comfortably. Wide open on an in-bounds play, Hundal finished softly off the glass.
Even without the punctuation mark, Manteca’s statement was loud and proud.
Tydus Verhoeven had 17 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Marcus Montano finished with 10 points.
Hundal completed his double-double with 13 rebounds and two blocks, earning praise from Weston Ranch coach Chris Teevan.
“Their big man is far and away their best player,” Teevan said. “He’s a young force to be reckoned with.”
The game was close only once and it was almost too early to remember.
Manteca scored the first six points of the game — all inside 3 feet of the basket — forcing Teevan to burn a timeout. The Cougars answered with a four-point spurt of their own to cut the deficit to 6-4, but that only seemed to ignite the Buffaloes.
Manteca finished the period on an 18-5 run and led by as many as 18 points in what coach Brett Lewis called his team’s best opening half of the season.
The Buffaloes owned a 17-6 advantage on the boards and outscored Weston Ranch 24-12 in the paint. Hundal had 23 points by the break, including 13 in the first quarter.
“We fed the big man and that was huge,” Lewis said. “Give them (Weston Ranch) credit. They did a bunch of different things, but they didn’t have an answer for him.”
Lewis was impressed by his big man’s footwork and court savvy.
With Weston Ranch’s guards buzzing all around him, Hundal moved with the purpose and power of a linebacker and the agility of a ballerina.
“With Anand, a lot of people criticize him because he might look slow; people think he’s clumsy,” Lewis said. “But hey, he was playing against some great athletes out there and he was spinning off of them and setting himself up nice. That’s a huge testament to his development and the work he’s putting in.”
MaxPreps helped provide a little extra motivation.
The Buffaloes were ranked 35th in MaxPreps’ latest section rankings, four spots back of Weston Ranch.
Head to head, there’s no debate. Manteca swept the season series with Weston Ranch, winning each game by at least 11 points.
The Cougars closed to within eight in the third quarter with a 14-4 run, but the Buffaloes’ bench stretched the lead to 60-46 going into the fourth.
Frankie Lopez scored five straight points, including a corner 3 and tumbling, off-balance lay-up, and Adrian Contreras rattled home a turnaround jumper in the lane to stymie the opponent.
“For whatever it’s worth they are ranked higher than us. We’ve been holding our hat on that and looking forward to this game,” Lewis said. “We’ve been wanting to play to prove those rankings are wrong. I feel like we did that.”
Teevan isn’t too concerned about the loss or the rankings.
At 8-3 in league play, the Cougars control still their own playoff destiny.
He’s more concerned with the lack of focus to start the game.
Weston Ranch sharpshooter Jazz Swanson (five points) started the game on the bench and never found his touch from the perimeter. And his teammates weren’t much better.
Weston Ranch was 1 for 11 from the 3-point line in the first half and 3 for 23 for the game.
Teevan also thought his team could do better to negate Manteca’s height advantage by denying the entry pass.
“We won’t win too many games going 3-for-23 from 3,” Teevan said. “They weren’t bad shots. They just weren’t going in. That’s how we play and that’s OK. Basketball is a make-or-miss game.”
Jaelen Ragsdale and Fred Lavender scored 20 points apiece for the Cougars, now 0-3 against Manteca and Sierra, the two teams ahead of them in the VOL standings.
Josh Dilg had 12 points in the loss.