PASADENA >> La Canada High School guard Brandon Co is listed as 5 feet, 5 inches on the team’s roster. When it comes to his impact on the court, as he showed in the visiting Spartans’ 51-47 Rio Hondo League boys basketball victory over Blair on Friday night, it’s hard not to notice.
According to La Canada coach Tom Hofman, Co catches the eye of opposing coaches.
“When we played Mater Dei when he was a freshman (Mater Dei coach) Gary McKnight said, ‘that kid is a lion,” Hofman said of Co who led all Spartan scorers with 20 points. “He shows good composure and he is a solid kid. He is truly the engine of the team.”
With his fearless approach to the game and his knack for hitting baskets at clutch moments, it’s easy to see why players have total trust in the point guard.
“Brandon is a great asset to the team, especially when he’s shooting it like he did tonight,” said Spartan forward Ryan Graves who hit the game-clinching 3-point basket with three minutes left in the game. “He’s also a great passer and so when he has a game like (Friday), you have to pick your poison.”
After the Vikings (13-5, 1-1) had scored on the opening possession of the fourth quarter, on a basket by Desmond Washington, Co that hit a wide-open 3 that gave the Spartans (10-8, 2-0) a 46-38 lead.
“We needed to come out and play hard defense and the goal was to stop their drives as well,” said Co. “I know that coming to each game that I am smaller than most players on the court and my goal is to play hard defense and get some stops.”
Hofmans also made a defensive schematic change at the start of the game. Throughout the season, his team has played man-to-man defense. Friday, he decided to go with a 2-3 matchup zone. It worked as the Vikings failed to score a field goal in the first four minutes of the game.
“I don’t think those guys were ready to see us in a zone,” Hofmans said. “I think we’ve played zone for a total of five minutes for the last five years. That was huge along with the fact that we made some shots as well.”
The Spartans offense came alive in the last five minutes of the first half as they outscored Blair, 15-2. It turned out to be the single most influential point in the game. Senior Patrick Panoosi was the only other Spartan to score in double digits as he contributed 10 points.
“I could have done a little bit better, I was off on my shot a little bit,” said Panoosi who scored eight of his points in the first half. “I’ve been a little bit of a slump lately but ten points is not bad. I know that I can do better.”
Washington, a senior, scored 19 points for the Vikings. In the second half, he scored nine points with drives to the basket. “They did a great job of adjusting to our defense and attacking our zone,” Hofmans said. Donald Guyton added 10 points.
Washington had a chance to cut La Canada’s lead with a 3-point attempt with 18 seconds left that failed. The Vikings had one final chance to make it a one-possession game but Chris Babby Jr.’s shot was blocked by Graves that sealed the win.
The importance of the win was not lost on Hofmans as his team remains a half-game behind San Marino in the Rio Hondo League standings.
“Every league game is huge,” Hofmans said. “We had a tough preseason. We played teams that were really athletic and it helped us prepare for games like this.”