Mentor coach Bob Krizancic has proved over a Hall of Fame career that he can get a team ready to play the best of the best, and play well.
That was certainly the case once again on Jan. 10 in the showdown at sold-out Viking Village between the Cardinals and nationally ranked Villa Angela-St. Joseph.
However, the 72-59 loss and strong effort against the undefeated Vikings wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy Krizancic or any of the Mentor players on the way back to Lake County.
It is something to build on for the 7-4 Cardinals moving forward, but there was no moral victory following the setback.
“We’ve got to learn to win,” Krizancic said. “That’s what I told them. ‘You play at Mentor, you take a look at our past — 10, 15 years — you walk in and you expect to win. There is no consolation. We play these games to get better. I think we’ll get better, I think we learned a lot, but we’ve got to learn to finish and we’ve got to learn to play really good fourth quarters.
“We’re right there. Scoring at the end of the third, scoring at the end of the fourth is huge. Playing from behind is totally different than playing tied or having a one- or two-point lead. That’s, again, what we struggled to do, and hopefully we learn.”
Trailing, 55-53, heading into the final quarter, Mentor was unable to maintain offensively against VASJ (8-0) and the Vikings’ considerable height advantage.
The Cardinals scored only six points in the fourth while watching Vikings senior stars Carlton Bragg and Brian Parker knock down eight free throws on the way to 17 points for the Vikings and a 13-point victory.
“We defended,” VASJ head coach Babe Kwasniak said. “When we zone — people think, You’re zoning Mentor, you’re zoning a 3-point shooting team.’ We talked about this last year, what it does is it keeps us out of foul trouble.
“Amoeba is a great word (for the zone defense), but yeah, it’s a matchup. It’s something my dad (Tedd Kwasniak) has played for a long time. I despise playing zone, but like Coach (Bob) Krizancic, with our length — they missed a couple of those 3s. Coach Krizancic’s teams, they don’t get tired. People don’t understand, it’s not like they’re going to get tired. So you can say, ‘OK, you’re going to wear them out,’ — you’re not going to wear them out. What our length does on those 3s, it’s tougher to shoot 3s over a 6-10 and a 6-9 guy.”
Bragg, a 6-foot-10 5-star recruit who verbally committed to Kansas on Jan. 8, matched a career high with 31 points. Marist recruit Brian Parker scored 17 and 6-foot-9 Northwestern recruit Dererk Pardon scored the first seven points of the game and finished with 15 for VASJ.
After starting the game on the bench, for what Kwasniak said was not meeting a team standard, Bragg took over to help the Vikings overcome an early deficit to lead by five at halftime.
Bragg continued his strong evening with 11 of VASJ’s 18 points in the second quarter en route to tying his career-high of 31 points for the third time this season. He also scored the first six points of the third quarter for the Vikings.
“The bigs run the floor really well, and they get down there really quick,” Krizancic said. “Pardon got seven quick points, but it wasn’t out of the offense, it was out of the transition. We talked about — we wanted to get transition shots and limit theirs, but I thought they ran it and scored that many points — they run the floor really, really well. Especially the bigs.”
Mentor senior Joey Zaugg was big all night, hitting five 3s and finishing with a team-high 23.
Micah Potter scored nine points in the third after sitting on the bench for most of the first half with foul trouble. Unfortunately for Mentor, those nine were Potter’s only points of the game before fouling out midway through the fourth.
Kwasniak was very complimentary of Krizancic and the Cardinals’ effort on Jan. 10.
“’A ton of respect’ doesn’t do it justice, the amount of respect I have for that man,” Kwasniak said of Krizancic. “I love the product he produces. For whatever reason, maybe it’s because he doesn’t always have a bunch of guys going and playing big-time, Division I college basketball, yet they’re always there to win a state championship. I’ve said this many times, Bob Krizancic might be the best coach in the state, regardless of high school, college or pros. I think that highly of him, so we faced some adversity. Playing them is adversity. Our kids will tell you, we played two nationally ranked teams, but it’s way worse guarding them. Obviously a great win for us.”
Paul Sateika added nine points and Kyle McIntosh chipped in eight points for Mentor.