Perhaps for Kris Jenkins, there’s something about West Virginia. For the second straight year, the Gonzaga senior forward turned in an impressive showing on the national stage of the Cancer Research Classic. Last season, Jenkins had his coming-out party of sorts, scoring 21 points while shutting down Whitney Young (Ill.) top recruit Jahlil Okafor. On Saturday, Jenkins solidified his elite status by recording 31 points and 12 rebounds in a 65-59 win against California power Salesian on ESPNU.
“Kris’ ability to rebound and control the game were tremendous,” Gonzaga Coach Steve Turner said. “I also thought our defense down the stretch was key, too.”
This time, it was Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof (12 points) who showed his defensive prowess, holding highly touted Salesian swingman Jabari Bird scoreless in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles are now 6-1 against out-of-state competition this season but starting with Tuesday’s game against St. Mary’s Ryken, Gonzaga will now shift its focus back to play in the always tough Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
“This conference is the best in the country and there are no gimme games, so you have to bring it every night,” Turner said. “A lot of our success has come from the next guy stepping up if another guy has an off night. It’s all about 13 guys being on the same page every night. . . .
Hours before Gonzaga’s win, DeMatha took the same West Virginia court by storm in an 83-64 blowout of Gill St. Bernard’s (N.J.). Corey Henson scored 25 points, including five three-pointers to pace DeMatha.
The win marked the Stags’ sixth straight win after an 0-3 start and offered signs of an evolving chemistry for a team that graduated much of its nucleus last year. At the center of this surge is BeeJay Anya, who has recovered from a sprained ankle to average 15.5 points and 15 rebounds in his last two games.
“When BeeJay sprained his ankle, he didn’t make excuses,” Stags Coach Mike Jones said. “He practiced every day that he could and now that he’s healthy, he’s gotten in better shape, which has helped him play better and show why he’s one of the best in the country.”
“With us being so young, it takes time to gel as a team,” Jones said. “We’re nowhere near as good as we could be, but we’re better than we were a month ago and that’s good a thing. We’re a work in progress. I’m as confident in our team now as I was before the season.”
With the electrifying Aquille Carr running the show, Princeton Day is known for its up-tempo play. But even the Storm’s players had to catch their breath at times Saturday when they played back-to-back games.
The gauntlet began at 3:20 p.m. at Archbishop Caroll’s More Than a Basketball Showcase, where Princeton Day beat Wilson, 79-70, in front of a standing-room only crowd. The Storm quickly shuffled onto its bus to head to Riverdale for a 6:40 tip against Middleburg. Showing few signs of fatigue, the Storm led for much of their 77-69 victory.
Ironically, Princeton Day was involved in a similar scenario last month when Riverdale Baptist played a doubleheader on Dec. 15. The Crusaders lost close games that day to Christian Faith and Princeton Day.
So what was the Storm’s reward after its wild weekend? Monday practice and another game Tuesday against Capital Beltway rival Cesar Chavez.
“We accepted the challenge and our players handled it well,” Coach Van Whitfield said. “Things like this help them get ready for the next level.”
It didn’t hurt that the Storm welcomed an able body in senior Jerron Martin. The 6-foot-1 guard transferred from Bishop McNamara last week and has averaged just under 10 points since making his Storm debut against National Christian on Thursday.
“Jerron wanted to move to a better situation and we’re happy to have him,” Whitfield said. “A player like him helps take pressure off Aquille and boosts our team to a higher level.”