Defense drives Rio hoop success

First place, sports writing

December 21, 2007. This is the last time the buzzer sounded with the scoreboard showing Rio with more points than the Jesuit Marauders. This year’s match will be just a day shy of the 12th anniversary of that game.

Since then, Jesuit has dominated the series, beating Rio by an average margin of nearly 19 points. They have outscored the Raiders by 208, and Rio has lost by less than 10 twice in that 11 year span.

The Raider offense, currently being led in scoring by senior wing Mitchell Dixon, is not exactly imposing their will on opponents. At times, they can improvise to get open shots, but mostly has struggled to run an effective offensive system.

The lack of off-ball movement has been concerning as well. While they can turn good defense into offense, this is not a sustainable way to run a team.

Their offense has also been down from last year when they averaged 60.3 points per game compared to their 55.9 this year.

On the other end, Rio’s defense this season has gotten off to a fantastic start. This begins with their suffocating full-court press, a staple of 12th year head coach Chris Jones’ system.

Should opponents navigate across half court, the Raiders have been running a one-two-two zone. Through this, they have played extremely aggressive, going for steals that are at times reckless.

During their dominant win over Mira Loma, Rio defenders jumped into passing lanes countless times. Some of these lead to missed steals, causing a slow rotation around the perimeter, however the rewards for this type of play are big.

This aggressiveness has paid dividends as the Raiders average 8.8 steals per game. Senior Alex Vyronis and Dixon pair for the top two spots in the steals category for their Capital Athletic League.

The third-place game of the Jack Scott Tournament has proven to be representative of Rio’s season. Their opponents, Granite Bay, jumped the Raiders early, busting out of the gates on a 12-0 run.

Into the second quarter, the Rio defense began to clamp down. Forcing turnovers, the Raiders turned defense into offense with fast break opportunities. On three straight possessions, senior point guard Denzel Harris received a breakout pass that led to easy points off a turnover.

In the second half, Rio began to shoot well, attacking a fatigued Granite Bay team. They continued to execute on the fast break and play sound defense.

Granite Bay connected on a few extremely difficult shots down the stretch to keep it close. These were not the fault of the defense as Rio went on to win 69-61.

So how could Rio beat Jesuit? Through forcing turnovers, executing on the fast break opportunities and playing aggressive defense, the Raiders could put themselves in a position to complete the upset.