BURBANK HIGH — The Bellarmine-Jefferson High boys' basketball team was already missing some key players when it faced Canyon Country Canyon on Tuesday in a first-round, pool-play game of the Burbank Tournament.
A group of the team's seniors were away at a religious retreat, as just two of five starters remained. To make matter worse, two of the Guards' junior players were not able to play because of illness.
That left the Guards with essentially a junior varsity team that included just two varsity players. That didn't bode well against a Canyon team that won the Foothill League championship last season.
The young Guards were just no match for the Cowboys, as Bell-Jeff struggled in the first half before suffering a 64-43 loss in its season-opening game.
With so many of his players missing, Bell-Jeff Coach Julian Andrade said his squad took an underdog attitude against the Cowboys.
"It's really an easy game to coach because coming in you already know your back's against the wall and you really have nothing to lose," said Andrade, whose team went 9-18 last season and placed fourth in the Santa Fe League. "We knew we're going up against a tough team, but hey, you have to play the game.
"But I thought we fought hard. The guys were out there battling and I give them credit for that. They never game up."
The Guards did receive a solid effort from one of their regular players — 6-foot-5 sophomore Abid Oses, a transfer from Panama. Oses scored 20 points, including all of his team's 15 points in the fourth quarter. In addition, he had 10 rebounds and two blocks.
"We were missing some important players today," Oses said. "We just wanted to do what we had to do. We need the seniors back."
The Guards were bombarded by a steady dose of talented Canyon outside shooters. Dean Hendrix-Davis paced Canyon with 19 points and teammate Mathew Edwards added 11, which included three three-pointers.
Bell-Jeff was only able to stay with the Cowboys for a short span early in the first quarter. When Parker Williams scored with just over three minutes remaining in the opening stanza, the Guards were only down by two, 8-6. However, the Cowboys ended the quarter on a 12-3 run to take a 20-9 advantage into the second quarter.
In the second is when things started to unravel for the Guards. Bell-Jeff committed 10 turnovers and it was outscored, 22-5.
"We were missing our senior guards and that's why we were committing the turnovers," Andrade said. "Our guard play is very important to us this season, and I think that's what we missed the most today."
In the second, the Guards were held without a field goal until the 2:23 mark, as Ross Lee hit a runner for a bucket. The only other shot from the field Bell-Jeff converted was when Oses hit a put-back with five seconds remaining.
Canyon went into the third quarter with a comfortable 42-14 advantage.
Bell-Jeff played better in the second half, matching the Cowboys point for point in the third quarter, as both squads tallied 14. The Guards actually outscored the Cowboys, 15-10, in the fourth quarter.
Williams added seven points and nine rebounds and Lee chipped in 10 points.
Things won't get any easier for the Guards in the tournament. They will face Agoura at 6:30 p.m. today and finish pool play with an 8 p.m. game Thursday against host Burbank.
"We got at least three more days of this," Andrade said. "We just have to go out there and play and try and see what we can accomplish. This is really good experience for the younger guys, and hopefully they'll be able to benefit from it."