The Live Oak High boys basketball team was 2-5 entering a Dec. 22 non-league game against Independence High. The 76ers came in with a 6-5 mark, though by the end of their contest, one would be correct in concluding that the two squads were pretty evenly matched.
Independence was stronger at the end and prevailed 57-50, though the Acorns led for most of the contest. Live Oak was undone by 27 turnovers and got stagnant offensively in the fourth quarter, scoring just nine points in the final frame.
“We had a lot of turnovers and we have to fix that,” Acorns coach Randy Bartholomew said. “We can’t give teams more chances because we’re not going to outscore anybody.”
Live Oak came out fast and strong, scoring the first 10 points of the game. Trent Cousens and Steven Rosenberger opened with back-to-back drives, Gus Giba powered his way inside for a couple of layups and A.J. Richards scored off dribble penetration as the Acorns looked downright impressive on both ends of the floor.
Their defensive execution matched their offense, as they harassed Independence into tough shots and turnovers. The 76ers didn’t score their first points until halfway through the opening quarter, but Rosenberger answered with a 3-pointer to give the Acorns their largest lead of the game, 13-2.
Give credit to Independence, though, as it kept its high intensity and physical defensive pressure up and hit some big shots down the stretch to pull away in the final two minutes. The Acorns didn’t give up the lead until there was 3:20 left in the third quarter.
However, they immediately retook the lead on a driving runner from Richards as the lead changed hands three times in the next four minutes. Independence took the lead for good with 4:30 remaining. Rosenberger had a team-high 16 points, Giba 13, Richards eight and Cousens seven.
The Acorns were coming off a five-point loss to Hillsdale of San Mateo, and Bartholomew feels the team is getting close to where it needs to be once Blossom Valley League Santa Teresa East Division play starts in January.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “This is a team with a lot of inexperience, but they’re working hard and a lot better than they were the first couple weeks of the season.”
A day after the Independence loss, Live Oak took a long road trip and beat Soledad High 63-47 in a nice bounceback performance.
Records can be misleading sometimes, and it’s probably true in Live Oak’s case. The Acorns have a one-man press breaker in Rosenberger, who is a deft ball handler, solid 3-point shooter and able to get to the basket off dribble penetration pretty much against any individual defender.
Cousens and Richards are physical players and also effective driving to the basket, Giba is effective down low, Ryan Murray can get hot from beyond the arc and Isaac Mendoza provides valuable minutes off the bench. When facing opponents like Independence—which will play as physical as the referees allow—Bartholomew told his players they needed to be mentally prepared for what was coming.
Giba, in particular, seems to attract a lot of physical play but sometimes doesn’t get the calls when he’s going up for shots from in-close.
“He always gets hammered,” Bartholomew said. “But I tell him all the time you’re going to get hit and it’s going to happen, but you have to play through it.”
That goes for all of the team’s top players as well. How the Acorns fare the rest of the way will depend on their execution, limiting turnovers and handling the physical play from teams that are known for riding ball handlers the length of the court. They seemingly have the skill and now it’s about putting things all together.
“We just need to get better every single game,” Bartholomew said. “I tell the guys practice should be harder than the games. You should be going at each other and making it hard—that’s the only way you’re going to get better. We just have to keep improving—that’s all I ask of them, is to keep playing hard.”
Live Oak returned just three players off last year’s spring team that won the program’s first league championship in 33 years. Bartholomew knew it would take some time for things to coalesce, and he’s optimistic that’s what will happen in the coming weeks ahead.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “And fortunately we have some games coming up where we can get the work done and hopefully prepare for league and do better.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.