By Dave Ruden
STAMFORD — For nearly three quarters Tuesday night, the Westhill boys basketball team was hitting the snooze button on the alarm.
The chime would go off, alerting them to awake, but the Vikings did the basketball version of stretching their arms with eyes still closed and pushing the nob that allowed them a few more minutes of uninterrupted sleep.
“We’ve been starting a lot of games like that,” said Jeremiah Livingston, the Vikings’ slithery guard. “We have to get into a rhythm.”
Yet still, Westhill wins. At home on Tuesday, a 13-0 run that started late in the third quarter broke open a close game and sent the team to a 67-50 victory over Warren Harding.
It was the Vikings’ sixth straight win, and many have come after a few too many taps of the snooze button.
It is a reminder of just how good this team, currently 7-1, can be, but it is also a cautionary picture. As evidence, the players can look back to the second game of the season, when they were riding high after an opening-night win at St. Joseph.
Two days later the Vikings sleepwalked through a 10-point loss to a disciplined and hot shooting Ridgefield team.
Westhill plays at Greenwich on Friday night. An argument can be made that right now it is a battle for the mythical title of, behind Bridgeport Central, second-best team in the FCIAC.
If the Vikings are going to make a statement in their biggest game to date, they are going to have to, rolling with this theme, be prepared to answer the alarm from the start.
“This has been the problem for eight games,” Westhill coach Howard White said. “There are times we come out and play sluggish. You can’t do that in this league. You’ve got to come out ready to play.”
The most telling indication of the Vikings’ early-game state on Tuesday was the way they were getting beaten by Harding on the offensive boards, leading to second-chance points and, after the first quarter, a 17-14 deficit.
“It seemed like when we saw them start to attack, we started to start to attack,” said guard CJ Donaldson, who finished with 15 points. “Once that happened the defense came to play.”
The Vikings were stifling over the final 10 minutes, save for a brief letdown when their 18-point lead was cut to 12 with 1:40 left and White called a timeout and let his players have it.
Westhill returned to the court and scored 7 quick points, two baskets off steals. Game, set, match.
“We didn’t have energy in the first half,” said Livingston, who had just 4 points at the break before taking over and finishing with a game-high 17. “In the second half we had it.”
Of his own slow start, Livingston said, “I realize they are going to play defense on me so I have to get used to it.”
Livingston said even though the season is just about at the midway point, the Vikings remain a work in progress.
“I think we’re at about 30 percent,” he said. “We have a lot of things we have to work on. Team chemistry. We’re learning to trust each other. We’re not where we need to be to win a championship.”
Livingston, Donaldson and Evan Skoparantzos, who finished with 15 points and provided the muscle inside, have been three constants. Different players have taken turns stepping up in supporting roles. Against Harding it was Jesse Brown, who scored 12 points.
“The way we played at the end, that’s the energy I need at the start of the game,” White said. “It can’t just come out in spurts.”
If the Vikings can find a way to bottle it, championship talk takes the next step from theory.