Matt Willkomm isn’t fond of the term “streaky shooter.”
The Arroyo Grande High boys basketball team’s leading scorer prides himself on being hot far more than not when shooting from the outside.
While going the entire first half without a field goal in Tuesday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 2A second-round playoff game against visiting Redlands East Valley, really, he wasn’t even lukewarm.
“I wasn’t making a shot,” said Willkomm, who averaged 16.6 points coming into the game. “So, I was thinking about what I could do for the team and how I could dish. Other than scoring, I just looked to get my teammates involved.”
Then the streak started.
The senior guard hit five third-quarter field goals and finished with 19 points help the 11th-seeded Eagles (21-8) erase a nine-point halftime lead in a 63-44 upset of the No. 6 Wildcats at James Gym.
Willkomm hit his first bucket, a layup that came midway through the third quarter. Then a pull-up jumper driving the left side of the lane. Then a spot-up jumper.
Before East Valley (20-9) could call a timeout, Willkomm had four straight baskets, and Arroyo Grande tied the score at 36 with 2:26 left in the third after trailing 32-23 at the half.
A layup by Willkomm with 40 seconds left in the third gave the Eagles their first lead since the opening moments, and they kept it for good, outpacing the Wildcats increasingly down the stretch.
“He really isn’t a streaky shooter,” Eagles coach Ryan Glanville said. “He’s been solid for us all year from beginning to end, but you get in the playoffs like this, and everybody’s got film, and everyone’s courted you, and Matt’s done a lot of good things for us, so they really key on him.
“And that was our big talk before the game: If we’re to beat a team like Redlands, we’re going to have to have balance.”
Sophomore guard Cobe Williams provided some balance with 17 points, including three first-half 3-pointers, and finished with five rebounds and three steals. Brennan Rivera had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Eagles, and Willkomm added seven rebounds and five steals.
One key to Arroyo Grande’s comeback was getting 6-foot-6 East Valley center Eli Chuha into foul trouble. A junior playing in only his first season of high school basketball, Chuha was averaging 14.4 points and 13.6 rebounds coming in and was dominant early on.
He scored nine points in the first quarter, but after picking up two quick fouls in the second, he was only kept on the floor in spurts.
Chuha was charged with an early foul in the third quarter and fouled out with 2:25 left in the game, finishing with 11 points.
The strategy “was to just not let him get the ball,” Rivera said, “because we knew he could dominate in the paint. So, if we didn’t let him get the ball, he obviously can’t score. Just keep him with as little touches as possible, and once he gets it, play tough D.”
Jarrett Ellis scored a team-high 14 for East Valley, which also got 11 from Terrance Williams.
A year after making it to the Division 3AAA championship game, Arroyo Grande is making another playoff run.
On Friday, the Eagles will host No. 3 Canyon, which blew out unseeded Don Lugo 85-57.
It’s the fifth time in the past seven years Arroyo Grande has advanced past its first two games in the section playoffs.
“You can say it’s a tradition,” Willkomm said, “but coach Glanville knows what he’s doing. He puts so much time into coaching us and preparing us for the next game. You just have to give it all to the coaches because we know what we’re going and what tempo we want to play.”