LIVINGSTON — Angelo Naldi decided to gamble.
The Livingston High boys basketball coach elected to send his top player Brian Perez on to the floor to start the fourth quarter, despite his four fouls.
"I've gotta have him on the floor," Naldi said. "If I leave him on the bench, we might be too far behind to bring him back with 3 minutes left. It's a gamble, but he's got to learn how to play in that situation."
The gamble paid off as Perez scored six points before fouling out with just under a minute left in the game as the Wolves held on for a 76-70 win over Ceres in the Western Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
Perez finished with 23 points and 17 rebounds.
"As a player, you have to adjust to the way the refs are calling the game," Perez said. "I tried to stay aggressive on offense, but be less aggressive on defense. I didn't want to pick up that fifth foul."
The Wolves (9-5 overall) won with their pressure defense. Joseph Chavez, Luis Santa Cruz and Sean Brunelle were all over the floor, helping force the Bulldogs (6-8) into 18 turnovers.
Livingston crashed the boards, creating plenty of second chances.
Sophomore Quian Newson hit some big shots from outside for Livingston on his way to scoring 17 points. He also forced Ceres' center Harmon Chung (25 points) to come outside the paint on defense, which opened up the lane for Livingston's guard to cut to the basket.
"Tonight we won mostly because of our defense," Perez said. "We executed well. We picked up the pressure. We picked out players and forced them to one side. Our defense helped us go on a couple runs."
The Wolves made some mistakes down the stretch that made the game a little closer than it needed to be. Chavez was whistled for an intentional foul and Ceres' James Pernetti was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer with 38.9 seconds left.
The Bulldogs needed just over a minute to cut a 10-point deficit to 71-68 with 38.9 seconds left.
However, the Wolves iced the game by making five of six shots from the free-throw line in the final 36 seconds.