Cougars Get Defensive in 63-42 Victory over Vikings

Weston Ranch beat Edison 63-42 last night at Edison. The Cougars avenged an earlier loss to the Vikings, and as everyone in attendance found out, sometimes the second meeting is more prosperous than the first. So it was a great opportunity to accept the welcome to the SJAA invitation formally and in person.

On Jan. 4, Edison beat Weston Ranch 68-65 on the Cougars’ home court. After holding on and escaping with a 3-point win, the Vikings, coaches, and fans poured onto the court and celebrated an opening win of a 12-game league schedule like a Section Championship. However, last night, it was a different atmosphere. As the Edison fans headed to the exits with five minutes left in the 4th quarter and the Vikings were collecting technical fouls, the only thing the Cougars and their fans chose to celebrate was another win.

“Last night was a true team victory,” said head coach Nicholas Podesta. “I couldn’t be more proud of how our team defended and controlled the glass last night. Every single player who logged a minute last night made positive contributions.”

Two things were evident in the victory. One, the Cougars showed improvement after a 2-8 preseason, and two, they proved they have learned how to close out big games. Weston Ranch has breezed past SJAA opponents for the past few weeks, and there may have been a concern about whether they could elevate their game against more challenging opponents. However, as the Vikings found out, the Cougars rough preseason is paying dividends now.

“Our guys did an outstanding job of disrupting Edison’s offense and not allowing them to get into a rhythm on their home floor,” Podesta said. “When we defend and rebound the basketball like we did last night, we’re pretty challenging to beat.”

Weston trailed Edison 12-8 as the first quarter concluded, bringing back memories of the 20-8 first-quarter deficit they faced in the first meeting with the Vikings. The Cougars trailed Edison 21-12 in the second quarter and looked helpless defending the Vikings under the basket. But, as fans of the program know, the Cougars don’t give up, and they find ways to claw their way back into games. The nine-point deficit was erased as Weston Ranch outscored Edison 16-6 in the first half’s final four minutes for a 28-25 halftime lead. The amazing part of the comeback was Weston Ranch shot 10-22 from the free throw line and 0-8 from 3s. Had they connected more on either the free throws, the 3s, or both, the halftime score and final score could have been much more significant in the Cougars’ favor.

“We did not shoot the ball well last night and left a lot of points at the free throw line,” Podesta said. “However, when you get stops and maximize your opportunities in transition, you’ll have quite a bit of success.

While the offense gets most of the attention, the Weston Ranch defense was last night’s star. The Cougars collected 21 defensive rebounds (40 total), 15 steals, three blocked shots, and forced 31 Edison turnovers. They also held the Vikings to 17 points in the second half—a pretty good night of work. Richard Banks and senior Xavion Bell focused most of the night on harassing and locking down the Vikings’ scorers. Banks had a quiet scoring night (nine points), but his defense put the Cougars into great positions during transitions. Bell didn’t score, but his contribution was that he shut down Edison’s leading scorer Leon Mills. Bell was in the front court harassing Mills all game, and Mills, who scored 20 points in the first meeting, finished with 10 points. Points get attention, but defense wins games, and Bell’s defensive efforts were the Cougars’ catalyst.

“We had some standout defensive performances last night, including a dominant one by senior Xavion Bell,” Podesta said. “It takes a special player to dominate a game without recording a field goal… that was Xavion Bell tonight! Elite defensive performance. I couldn’t be happier for the kid. He’s an absolute winner and a next-level guy on and off the court.”

Offensively, Weston Ranch was led by Elijah Mobley and his 24 points. Coming off a 52-point performance at Linden on Monday, Mobley went scoreless in the first quarter. But he responded with a vengeance, netting 11 points in the second, 7 in the third, and 6 in the fourth quarter.

Elliot Mobley added 15 points, collected seven rebounds, and dished out five assists in a steady effort, and Khristian Holmes began slowly (three points in the first half) but picked up his pace in the second half and finished with 11 points.

Weston Ranch improved its record to 12-9 overall, 7-1 in the league, and a first-place tie in the SJAA with Edison. The Cougars also ran their current winning streak to 10 games and ended the Vikings winning streak at 11.

But it’s back to work for the Cougars, and they will need to put the win in the rearview mirror and continue to improve as they continue in the SJAA. Weston Ranch will be back on the court on Jan. 27 when they take on Bear Creek High School at Weston Ranch.