The Kitsilano Blue Demons won their second consecutive Vancouver senior boys basketball championship after doubling the Churchill Bulldogs at halftime on their way to a 82-68 victory Saturday night at John Oliver secondary.
The Demons scored 21 points in both the first and second quarters while the Bulldogs managed 21 points in the entire first half (remarkably, scoring only eight in the second quarter) largely because of tireless, grinding defence by Kitsilano's big man Luka Zaharijevic. Kits led Churchill 42-21 at the break.
Zaharijevic, a powerful six-foot-eight force in the key who has worked on a consistent soft touch from the free-throw line, had four blocks and went 10 for 11 from the line for 28 points. He kept Churchill starter Jesse Mushiana to a single basket and drew five fouls, forcing the six-foot-seven Bulldog centre from the game in the third quarter.
Zaharijevic played 35 minutes minutes with a chest infection and cough. He was named tournament MVP.
“I just knew that if I went 100 per cent, I'd be OK if I tried my hardest,” he said after the game, far from top shape as he coughed through an interview and while talking with fans. “I knew it wasn't going to be easy.”
Churchill defeated Kitsilano in an exhibition game earlier in the month, but the difference Saturday night at the city championship was the Demon's intensity, said coach Randy Coutts.
“We've been practising bringing out the intensity. When they played us in their gym, credit to them, we didn't come out with a lot of energy. Tonight we came out with a lot of energy,” he said. “That was the difference in the game.”
This is the fourth consecutive year Kitsilano has been in the senior boys basketball city final. They lost to Tupper in 2010 and 2011 and reclaimed the title last year, again meeting Tupper in the final.
Kitsilano ball-carrier Justin Sze set a quick pace for the Blue Demons and showed his versatility as a play-maker and scorer. He had 13 points, including six from deep and caused numerous Churchill turnovers.
“With our team, one of our biggest strengths is getting up and down,” said Sze. “We like to play a fast-paced game so I felt that was really important, pushing the ball up the court.”
“Justin controlled the whole tempo of the game,” said Coutts. “From start to finish, he did a great job. We got guys who can just step up. The beauty of this team is that we have so much depth — one through 12, we can stick a player in and he doesn't hurt us. It's a great thing to have so much depth on our team.”
Eight different players scored for Kitsilano.
Both teams shot close to 50 per cent from inside the arc, but Churchill could not get the ball to drop from deep. In 11 attempts, they scored twice from outside in the first half and the missed shots and lost possession stopped them from building any momentum. In the second half, they went three for five from deep but could not close the gap. They came within six points before Kitsilano pulled ahead.
Mindy Minhas, widely considered one of the best basketball players in the province and a friend of Zaharijevic from their club connection at DRIVE, scored 30 points. Churchill had their best showing in the third quarter as Minhas tried to carry the Bulldogs on his back but the Grade 11 talent couldn't settle into a rhythm and the Dogs couldn't catch the Demons.
Before the final, Churchill coach Rick Lopez said he wanted the Bulldogs to play to their potential. He said that didn't happen Saturday night against Kitsilano.
“We played hard and I'm really proud of the fight they had in them but it just wasn't our night,” he said. “We could play better. We're leaving here knowing that we could play a little bit better.”
Lopez said his team was being outworked in the first half.
“These kids have a ton of pride, they practise so hard, they have a bunch of family and friends who came out to watch them and you don't want to go out like that,” he said. “I was proud how hard they worked and their effort — there is nothing wrong there. We just have to be a little bit better.”
Special thanks to Alan Kollins for keeping stats for the Courier.