Who says December high school basketball games are tame?
The Oxnard and Simi Valley highs boys produced a rollicking, intense and passionate matchup Thursday night in the Bob Hawking Tip Off Classic, with the host Pioneers pulling away in the third quarter for a 57-39 victory.
A frenzied defensive effort is already the calling card for Oxnard coach Jeff Staniland. Now it apparently will be the hallmark for first-year Simi Valley coach Alex Kamberian.
"This is the culture coach has brought in here," said Simi Valley senior guard Angel Navarro. "We're going to play with a lot of intensity and we're going to play hard on defense."
Navarro, a 6-foot-3 guard among Ventura County's top players for the 2021-2022 season, topped all scorers with 21 points, including 10 points in the decisive third quarter.
The Pioneers led at halftime, 32-29, then took command in the second half by holding the Yellowjackets to one point over six minutes of the third quarter. Oxnard tallied its first field goal with 1:47 remaining the quarter on a driving layup by Reese Widerburg.
Oxnard was limited to 10 points in the second half.
Simi Valley's smothering defense is no accident, said Kamberian.
"I want my team to play harder than everybody else," he said. "I want to see that from the players every night."
Navarro was the difference on offense after halftime, tallying 10 of the Pioneers' 13 points in the third quarter.
"Coach told me to just let the game come to me, and that's what I did tonight," said Navarro. "I wanted to get my teammates involved in the first half. When everybody is scoring, that makes us tough to defend.
"The opportunities were there in the third quarter, and I was able to take advantage."
Simi Valley, starting the season at 8-1, got 14 points from Ryder Mjoen and eight points from Jack Benyshek.
Oxnard (3-2) was led by Dylan O'Neill with 11 point and 10 rebounds, Bobby Barajas with eight points and six assists and Wilderburg with six points.
The contest started out with high intensity from both sides, which was no accident.
Oxnard, arguably the county's top program in recent seasons, sports a young roster that featured two freshmen and two sophomores in the starting lineup Thursday.
Staniland wants his players to absorb lessons in preseason.
"We didn't get many good looks in the second half, and that's something we've got to learn," said Staniland. "They (the Pioneers) simply executed better than we did. We're still learning, and that's why games like this are so important."
Kamberian, formerly a top assistant at high-powered St. Francis, is eager for a quick start in his first run as a head coach. Navarro likes what he's seen from his new coach.
"He's changing the culture and really setting up where the program goes from here," said Navarro. "The program is in good hands. Even when I'm gone next year, I think this team will continue to thrive."
The Bob Hawking Tip Off Classic will not produce a champion this week. Participating teams are playing a round-robin format.
Games continue Friday with Chaminade vs. Viewpoint at 3 p.m.; Oaks Christian vs. San Marcos at 5 p.m.; Westlake vs. Oxnard at 6:30 p.m.; and Ventura vs. Simi Valley at 8 p.m.
Loren Ledin is the Prep Editor for The Star. He can be reached at email@example.com or 805-437-0285.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Simi Valley's defense sparks win over Oxnard in early-season showdown