Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017 | 9:40 p.m.
After surviving one of the toughest early-season schedules in the state, the Coronado High basketball team emerged battle tested and better prepared than ever for league play.
Wednesday night at Foothill High, the Cougars reaped the benefits of those early slugfests — crushing the Falcons 84-61 and tightening their stranglehold on the Southeast League.
Coronado is the two-time defending league champion and entered the game on a 23-game win streak in league play. But Coronado’s slow 8-7 start in nonleague play coupled with Foothill’s impressive 16-3 record suggested there could be a change of the guard.
The Cougars quickly slammed the door shut on that idea.
“It’s definitely a huge win for us,” said senior Kennedy Koehler. “That really sets the tone for the league and shows that we are clearly the best and we are going to keep pushing.”
Koehler overcame a slow start to finish with 20 points for Coronado.
“I wasn’t hitting shots early in the game, so I knew I needed to get to the line to get things going and get my points,” Koehler said.
The 6-foot-7 forward went 11-of-15 from the charity stripe as the Cougars pulled away in the second half.
“I can’t say enough about Kennedy,” Coronado coach Jeff Kaufman said. “The kid works so hard and does what he’s supposed to do. He’s a big kid who can move the basketball, shoot and go to the hole.”
Will Weems led Coronado from the opening tip with eight points and four rebounds in the first quarter and finished with a team-high 22 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.
“(Weems) is a skilled big man,” Kaufman said. “People don’t see skilled big men with great footwork, blocking out and rebounding and that’s what he is. When he gets in a flow, creates space and can score, he’s a hard kid to stop.”
Foothill hung tough early in the game, trailing by only one point after the first quarter.
Senior forward Mauricio Smith led the Falcons with 25 points.
Coronado led 34-26 at halftime, and that’s when the Cougar defense turned up the pressure.
“At halftime, we wanted to come out and step on their throat to put them away right away,” Koehler said.
The Cougars’ half-court press overwhelmed Foothill, and the Falcons didn’t score their first points of the second half until 3:30 into the third quarter.
“Our defense has been really good for us,” Kaufman said. “We are working on our traps and getting the rotations down. When you trap and press like that, if you don’t rotate you’re dead and our back-line guys did a nice job of rotating.”
The scoring drought for Foothill allowed Coronado to build its lead to as high as 20 points in the third quarter and cruise to a victory from there.
Senior guard Trey Hulburt caught fire from 3-point range late, scoring 18 of his 20 points in the second half to help the Cougars maintain the lead.
With the win, Coronado is 4-0 in league play and in the driver's seat as it looks for a third straight Southeast title.
“It’s all about winning games,” Kaufman said. “That’s what all of this was for, is winning our league games. We wanted to get control of the league tonight and we did that.”