PORTLAND – Two Santa Cruz Warriors took off for another fast break.
This time the Maine Red Claws got back, with three defenders.
No problem for the Warriors. Darrington Hobson’s behind-the-back pass zipped by two Red Claws as Travis Leslie got the ball and dropped in the layup for a 90-64 lead in the third quarter.
Santa Cruz humbled the Red Claws on their court, winning 120-101 Friday night before 2,484 at the Portland Expo.
The Red Claws (16-10) looked in trouble from the start. Santa Cruz (15-8) led by nine after one quarter and by 20 at halftime. Maine never threatened.
Maine was outshot (51 percent to 43), out-rebounded (51-38) and outplayed, committing 18 turnovers to 12 by the Warriors.
“We had a lot of tired players,” said Maine Coach Mike Taylor, whose team played five games in eight days. “Transition defense was a problem all game. That’s the sign of a tired team.
“Defensive rebounding was a problem all game. That’s the sign of a tired team.
“It just seemed like whenever we tried to make a play, we would dribble the ball off a foot. And Santa Cruz played an excellent game.
The Warriors were playing their fourth game in eight days, the previous one on Monday.
Maine guard Micah Downs, who led all scorers with 28 points, said the difficult schedule may have been a factor. “It’s tough to do,” he said. “But it’s not an excuse. We’re professionals.”
Maine was down a player as popular guard Champ Oguchi was waived before the game — apparently at Oguchi’s request. Oguchi watched his former teammates from the first row behind the Red Claws’ bench.
What Oguchi saw was not pretty.
Downs kept the Red Claws close, briefly, when he hit three 3-pointers in the first four minutes. But soon the Red Claws got a taste of the Warriors’ league-leading defense.
Adding to Santa Cruz’s defensive muscle was the ability to sprint in transition. Several times the Red Claws were caught watching the Warriors make another fast-break basket.
“Transition defense has been our Achilles’ heel all year,” Downs said.
Santa Cruz’s half-court game was not bad, either. The Warriors combined lively guard play with quickness inside.
Maine’s 7-foot center Fab Melo could not contain Santa Cruz’s post players, especially 6-foot-11 backup center Hilton Armstrong. The former UConn player continually drove around Melo.
At one point, after another Armstrong basket, Melo looked to the Maine bench and shrugged.
“You could see Fab was fatigued,” Taylor said.
Melo finished with four points, three blocked shots and one rebound. Point guard Andre Barrett recorded 17 points and 11 assists. DaJuan Summers also had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
NOTES: Oguchi, 26, said he could not yet talk about his future plans, although it appears that he is headed overseas. Two years ago, Oguchi began the season with the Red Claws, but eventually left for the Philippines. Taylor also said he could not comment on Oguchi, yet. The Red Claws are off today, while Santa Cruz plays in Springfield. Springfield will then bus to Portland to take on the Red Claws at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Expo.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: