Santa Cruz Warriors Fall Short to Reno Bighorns 129-123

Head coach Casey Hill, Santa Cruz Warriors, NBA D-League
Head coach Casey Hill, Santa Cruz Warriors, NBA D-League /

The Santa Cruz Warriors were unable to defend home court against the Reno Bighorns on Tuesday night, losing 129-123.

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Going up against the Reno Bighorns is no easy feat, and neither is playing without your 2016 NBA All-Star. Unfortunately for the Santa Cruz Warriors, they were forced to do both on Tuesday night at Kaiser Permanente Arena, losing 129-123 to Reno.

Six out of the seven players available for the game scored in double digits. Aaron Craft led the way with 26 points, adding in 12 assists for the double-double. Behind him was Verdell Jones with 24, Terrence Drisdom with 23, Anthony Vereen with 17, Ronnie Brewer with 16, and Chris Udofia with 13.

Despite being active for the game, Daniel Coursey and Daniel Nwaelele did not play and were marked down as coach’s decisions. Xavier Henry remains inactive for Santa Cruz, and Darington Hobson reportedly won’t be back until after the All-Star break due to a sprained foot.

Reno’s David Stockton was the leading scorer for the game, finishing with 30 points to go with nine assists, four steals and a block. Ricky Ledo had 26 points, and Chad Toppert tallied 19 points on 6-for-8 shooting from behind the arc.

The game began incredibly close in the first quarter, ending with Santa Cruz down just 31-25. Other than the beautiful lob from Craft to Drisdom out of the mid-quarter timeout, it was Reno’s Chad Toppert that put on a show for the fans early in the contest. He put on his best Stephen Curry impression by scoring 10 points in the first half off three made baskets from behind the arc, finishing the first quarter 3-for-3 from long range to lead all scorers.

The story continued to be more of the same as Toppert remained hot from the field in the second quarter, scoring another nine points on 3-for-4 shooting from behind the arc. Stockton also began to find his rhythm on both ends, going into the locker room with 15 points. He ended the first half with a beautiful blow-by layup on Verdell Jones after the latter was caught just a step slow after the hesitation dribble.

The Warriors entered the fourth quarter with a 10-point deficit for after allowing Ledo and Stockton to combine for 23 in the third quarter. Down in the final quarter, Santa Cruz continued to battle, coming within single digits a number of times. Drisdom was exceptional for the Warriors down the stretch, providing the team with some much needed energy during their uphill climb. He had 15 points, five rebounds, an assist, and a steal in the fourth.

Coach Casey Hill spoke to the media after the game, saying he was pleased with the team’s “unwillingness to fold.”

“You know, it’s amazing — I was really happy with their effort,” Hill said. “I thought they came out and competed and battled, and I thought that they did what they needed to do in the second half in order to win the game.”

Shortly following a conversation with Drisdom after the game, head coach Casey Hill praised Drisdom for his late game performance in postgame interviews with the media.

“I just told him ‘Keep doing your thing man. You’re showing people you’re a player,'” said Hill. “That’s a great example of someone taking advantage of an opportunity — you get cut out of training camp, come back — and to have a performance like that…he did a great job.”

“He’s got a lot of potential man.”

And for those unaware, Santa Cruz’s 2016 D-League All-Star, Elliot Williams, is no longer with the team after signing an overseas deal with Greek team, Panathinaikos. Asked about whether it was bittersweet seeing Williams off to a better basketball opportunity, Coach Hill agreed, saying it was only a matter of time.

“I told him I’ve always been ready — every day when I wake up I’m always prepared to lose Elliot Williams,” said Hill.

“I wasn’t expecting him to get an offer so substantial overseas, but he did, and he had to take it…he used this as an opportunity to change his life, which is great.”