Warriors diffuse Energy 129-119
The pupil taught the master a lesson tonight as Casey Hill and the Santa Cruz Warriors (25-17) defeated the Iowa Energy (22-17) and former Warriors coach Nate Bjorkgren 129-119 in front of a raucous crowd at Kaiser Permanente Arena. Hill was an assistant coach for Bjorkgren last year in Santa Cruz.
The Warriors are currently riding a season-high four-game winning streak as 129 points marked a season-high. The victory tonight put them just a half-game behind West Division leaders Los Angeles.
“What we have here is a committed group,” said Hill. “Our locker room is the healthiest it’s been all year and guys are happy understanding their roles. It’s really good.”
The Reno Bighorns lost tonight to Idaho, putting them in a near-tie with Santa Cruz with mere percentage points being the difference between both teams.
Five Warriors finished the game in double-figures, three with triple-doubles as Seth Curry led all scorers with a game high 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting to go with four assists. On assignment from the Washington Wizards, Glen Rice Jr. finished with 29 points and four rebounds on 10-of-15 shooting.
The Iowa Energy found an early surge to open the game as they led by double digits in the first six minutes with a 15-4 run. Iowa’s Jackie Carmichael led all scorers with 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting, having his way inside with a lack of interior defense presence.
With Santa Cruz trailing, Warriors coach Casey Hill called timeout and his team responded. Led by Seth Curry, the Warriors went on a 15-2 run of their own to pull within one point of Iowa. During the early run, Curry scored 10 points as the Warriors trailed 30-38 after the Energy pulled away late in the frame.
The second quarter remained a back-and-forth battle as the Warriors cut the lead to two or less points on several occasions but couldn’t overtake the lead from Iowa as they always responded with a basket of their own. Cam Jones scored nine of his first-half 12 points in the second quarter as the Iowa defense didn’t make it easy for Jones to find his way to the rim.
After several games where he struggled on the court, Nemanja Nedovic found his groove in the second quarter as he scored eight points and snagged two steals on 4-of-6 shooting in the first half, including a pair of layups with his signature euro-step. He stated multiple injuries have hampered his ability to return to the court.
“I have problems with my left knee and my toes,” said Nedovic. “It was hard to get back into a rhythm and game shape, but I think I’m getting better. Tonight was a great team win.”
The European Derrick Rose says while in Santa Cruz he’s not near fully healed but is progressing.
“I’m at 70-75 percent, I still got to get my conditioning right, got to wake the legs up they’re still asleep a little bit but I’m getting there.”
“There’s a certain part of (Nedovic) that has a tendency to coast every once and awhile,” said Hill. “I don’t think he does it on purpose it’s just a part of him. He has to lose himself in the game and he did that tonight.”
“I was very happy with (Nedovic) effort tonight,” said Hill.
Nedovic finished the first-half with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the floor. Four Warriors finished the first-half scoring in double figures while Iowa had three players scoring in double-digits. The Warriors trailed after the first two quarters, 62-64. He finished with 17 points, five assists, four rebounds and shot 5-for-6 from inside the three-point line.
The Warriors’ D-League affiliate has been important for Nedovic’s road to recovery.
“It’s really important,” said Nedovic on playing in Santa Cruz. “I don’t get too many minutes with Golden State and I appreciate the guys that have accepted me as a teammate from the first day. It’s the best practice to get better.”
The third quarter saw the tempo being pushed as both teams remained hot, but Alexander continued to have his way with Rice Jr., scoring 10 points in the third quarter alone. Alexander finished with a double-double of 24 points and 11 rebounds.
“You can see (Alexander) game come along, his offensive game he’s making more shots consistently and playing with a bit more confidence,” said Hill. “The next step is seeing the floor, recognizing the defensive rotations and making the right passes.”
His hot hand forced Iowa to rotate and extend their defense allowing the weak-side to open up for offensive rebounds and put-backs from Lance Goulbourne and Ognjen Kuzmic. Both finished with double-doubles of their own as the Bosnian Beast finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds to go with five blocks on a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor. Lance ‘Zero-Gravity’ Goulbourne scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in just over 26 minutes of work.
“It’s like (Goulbourne) was on our team all year. He hasn’t missed a beat, plays hard, rebounds and finishes,” said Hill.
With just under three minutes remaining, a pull-up jumper by Curry on a tipped rebound gave the Sea Dubs the lead.
With Armstrong playing most of the third quarter, the interior defense improved as the Warriors capped of the third quarter with a 19-6 run to lead 99-91 heading into the fourth quarter.
A scary moment took place in the middle of the third quarter as Daniel Nwaelele took an elbow to the face and fell to the floor. Appearing dizzy, he walked off the floor on his own power but not before nearly collapsing in the tunnel on his way back to the locker room. Nwaelele was diagnosed with a concussion and it’s unknown when he’ll return.
“(Daniel) is such a calming presence for everybody. It’s tough, I hate when our guys get hurt,” said Hill.
The Warriors maintained their lead and extended it in the fourth quarter, showing no signs of slowing down as Kiwi Gardner saw quality minutes at the point-guard position. Gardner scored four points, and grabbed two rebounds in just over nine minutes on the floor.
The Warriors play again tomorrow night against the Energy once more in the second-game of a back-to-back series. Tipoff is 7:00 p.m.