SOUTH EL MONTE — It was Game 1. And game won.
The South Pasadena High School varsity boys basketball team traveled to South El Monte and dominated from start to finish Monday to win 66-62 in the Tigers’ season opener and their first regular-season game under new head coach Ernest Baskerville.
On the court, the Tigers were led by another newcomer, senior transfer guard Billy Reed, who scored a game-high 34 points while adding 15 rebounds. Remember that name — Reed figures to play a huge role this season as the Tigers take aim at a Rio Hondo League playoff berth.
The offense was being run through Reed most of the night, and he spent a good amount of time at the free-throw line. Baskerville said putting the ball in his hands was a small adjustment the Tigers made because he does a great job creating shots for his teammates.
Rodney Ortega added 16 points for the Tigers.
The Tigers began the game aggressively and set the pace from the start. They began in a full-court press and forced the Eagles into turnovers, getting out to an early double-digit lead. But once the Eagles got into the rhythm of the game, South El Monte got back in reach.
“We really watched a lot of stuff on them, and our defensive rotation in the first quarter was great when we played a lot more man [defense],” Baskerville said.
“I thought we passed the ball well. There were spurts where the ball went to Billy and it kind of stood there, but there’s other times when he moved the ball really well and we did a good job of getting the ball around. It helps when you have a guy like him.”
South El Monte was able to slow down the game much more in the second quarter, and the Tigers’ lead was only one point at halftime.
The third quarter saw much of the same from both sides, with the Eagles playing a zone defense that limited South Pasadena’s scoring.
“The strategy was to come in and be prepared for the things that they did with Bassett and they did a lot, but they played a lot more zone today than they did on film,” Baskerville said — referring to South El Monte’s season-opening 52-51 loss to Bassett.
“We still haven’t worked on our zone offense yet — good thing is, we have all of this week to prepare for next week against Arroyo,’’ he added, referring to one of their league opponents.
“We just need to work on our zone stuff — I’m not a big proponent of the zone. I love to play man [defense] … I think the more time we get, and for me to try and show them this film now, I think they’ll see it. I think we’ll be a lot better next week.”
South El Monte was proving to be a worthy opponent and kept the Tigers out of the paint for much of the fourth quarter before getting into foul trouble.
The game looked to be going down to the wire as the Eagles tied the game at 60 with about a minute and a half left — but Ortega, a senior guard, knocked down a corner three to put the Tigers up, and they never looked back.
Baskerville said the team is fairly new to this level and there could have been some jitters.
“It’s our first game — [South El Monte] has played once already, and they played a good game against Bassett,” he said.
The Tigers’ next game will be against Arroyo High in the Azusa Tournament on Monday, Dec. 2 at Azusa High. The tournament is a three-game guarantee for the Tigers on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.