The Santa Monica High boys have begun the final week of the Ocean League basketball schedule with undisputed possession of first place.
In a showdown game on Wednesday, January 31, Santa Monica slowed the tempo against an athletic Inglewood High team and earned a 58-53 home victory.
Samohi followed up two nights later with a 68-57 overtime win over Beverly Hills.
As a result Samohi began the week with a 7-1 league record. Inglewood has two losses and defending champion Hawthorne has three – all the defeats coming when Brandon Richardson was out with a hand injury.
Richardson has returned and was expected to play against Samohi Thursday in the final game of the league season. Before that, Samohi is scheduled at Culver City Tuesday.
Richardson was the league MVP last season.
Samohi, 21-3 overall, is assured of a playoff berth and hopes to build on the success of last season when the Vikings – as the second place team from the Ocean League – reached the CIF semi-finals.
Coach James Hecht is reluctant to compare the teams.
“We had expectations for this season, but a lot has to fall into place,” he said. “We’re trying to build off the success of last season.”
After Samohi went 20-10 last season four all-league players graduated. Guard Terrence Boozer and forward Will Freeman were named to the first team and Akil Gainer and Dominic Christopher were selected to the second team.
Despite the graduation losses the Vikings have done even better so far this season.
Against Inglewood, Samohi broke open a close contest to take a 46-34 lead after three quarters, then held off a rally by the visitors.
The win was accomplished even though center Ari Feldman got into early foul trouble and wasn’t much of a factor with only three points and four rebounds.
Leo Arnold led Samohi with 18 points and Bryan Louff had 16.
“They both did an excellent job of controlling the tempo,” said Hecht. “We didn’t want to get into a racehorse game with Inglewood.”
Against Beverly Hills, Samohi again had the benefit of vocal fan support and appeared to have a close victory until Beverly Hills made a game-tying three-point shot. Samohi then had the final attempt of regulation but Louff’s attempt went in and out.
No problem. The Vikings dominated the overtime, 16-5, as Arnold finished with 21 points, Louff had 18 and Feldman came back strong with 13 points and three blocks late in the game.
“He also altered a lot of their shots,” said Hecht.
Samohi didn’t have to face Richardson in its earlier victory over Hawthorne but is prepared to face him now.
“He’s a fine player and does a lot for them,” said Hecht. “We’ll have to be aware of where he is at all times.”
Richardson is among the best players in the league and has committed to play next season at Nebraska.