Jackrabbits take a big hop to another Moore title

LAKEWOOD, Ca. – “Order”, if you will, was restored in the Moore Leagues boys’ basketball race Tuesday night at Lakewood High.

The Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits, stunned at home (90-87, OT) when the teams met on Jan. 8, took resounding control of the league-lead Monday night with a 73-54 victory over the host Lancers.

Coach Shelton Diggs’ club improved to 15-6 and 7-1 in league, with Moore games yet to play this week with Wilson (Wednesday) and Millikan (Friday).

The Jackrabbits go outside of league for the final time in the regular season on Saturday afternoon at Mater Dei High, when they face Sierra Canyon at 4:15 in the two-day, 23rd Nike Extravaganza.

Sierra Canyon is a near-lock to be a part of the eight-team CIF Southern Section Open Division field when the bracket is announced on Feb. 10.

Those six losses have pretty much taken the Jackrabbits out of the hunt for a return to the Open playoffs, especially when the field halved from 16 this season.

But the playoffs were far from on anyone’s mind Monday night as the Jackrabbits methodically pulled away from Coach Duane Cooper’s Lancers (now 15-10 overall and 6-3 in league) to mostly lead by 20-plus points from early in the third quarter on.

Seven points by 5-foot-6 junior guard Trey Perry were the only reasons the Lancers (who committed turnovers on their first four possessions) were within five points (14-9) of the Jackrabbits after the first quarter.

And, with four players scoring at least four points in the second quarter, Poly was in front at intermission, 33-20.

The Jackrabbits scored the first seven points of the third quarter and that, as they say, was that.

Poly’s scoring balance was impressive, as four players – led by junior Malik Salahuddin – scored from to 12 to 17 points.

Senior point guard Darryl Polk Jr. (PICTURED), with University of San Diego Head Coach Lamont Smith and his assistant, Sam Scholl, in attendance in large part – no doubt – to watch him, scored 15 points with six rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Junior Justin Rene hit two of Poly’s four second-quarter 3-points and chipped in with 15 points.

But it was Poly’s half-court defense, as much as its transition attack or half-court execution offensively, that set the tone almost immediately.

Sophomore guard Atin Wright – one of the two or three best players in the Moore League who doesn’t wear a Poly uniform – scored 38 points when the Lancers stunned the Jackrabbits three weeks ago.

But he was all but locked up by a combination of defenders Monday night, missing his seven shots from the field before scoring his first field goal with 2:24 to go in the third quarter as his team trying to keep from falling behind by as many as 30 points.

He finished with just 12 points (the same as Perry), hitting two of 13 from the field and eight of 11 free throws.

“We didn’t play any defense the first time around,” Diggs said afterward. “But we did a really good job tonight, especially making things real tough for Wright.”

The Jackrabbits’ other five losses have come to the top squads in the L.A. City Section (Westchester and Fairfax), as well as Southern Section powers Etiwanda (No. 2 in the BurlisonOnBasketball SoCal ratings) and Damien, as well as one of San Diego’s five-best teams (Vista).

“I know we’re not going to be in the Open Division this time,” Diggs said. “But it will always be our goal to play in the Open Division. We feel, when we play like we’re capable, that we can play with anyone.”

With another Moore League title comfortably at hand – barring major slip-ups – the Jackrabbits will get a chance to prove that Saturday against Sierra Canyon.

A strong performance – even if it doesn’t result in a W – no doubt will enhance the Jackrabbits’ seeding when the Southern Section Division I bracket is unveiled on Feb. 11.

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