“I think this is a game that everyone wanted to see last year, but it never materialized,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for La Canada and coach Tom Hofman. We both played for coach (George) Terzian (at Pasadena High in the 1970s), so our teams are similar in a lot of respects.” What a game it would have been a year ago. La Canada was much deeper, with point guard Craig Ballard and center Phillip Anderson to go with Rhett Anderson and brothers Abe and Adam Malik. Pasadena, which advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division II-AA championship game, had one of the best defensive teams in the state. The Bulldogs had unsung seniors Artis Gant and Sean Powell to go with Star-News Player of the Year Kyle Austin. “How would we have done last year?” Hofman wondered. “If we played them 10 times, we’d probably win five times and they would have won five times.” The Spartans still have Rhett Anderson and the Malik brothers for Saturday’s game, and the Bulldogs have Austin, guard Trevon Harmon and emerging standout Kevin Dancer. But if there is one intangible that separates Pasadena and La Canada over the years, it’s the Bulldogs’ willingness to take on all comers outside the San Gabriel Valley. The Spartans remain home in their back yard and usually play just one or two genuinely difficult games prior to the CIF playoffs. Pasadena, (16-3), ranked No. 1 in Division I-A, has to be the favorite in this one because of how it’s carried itself outside the valley boundaries. The Bulldogs have beaten Division II’s top-ranked team, Colony, and have wins over other Southern Section powers Rancho Cucamonga, Los Osos and Santa Barbara. Two of their three losses have come against arguably the top team in California, Artesia, and the No. 2-rated team in Nevada, Bishop Gorman. The Spartans (14-2), ranked No. 3 in Division III-AA behind Artesia and Santa Margarita, have built their reputation by staying home in local tournaments, where they’re usually overwhelming favorites. The Spartans beat Pomona to win the Arroyo Tournament, beat Keppel to win the La Salle/Temple City Tournament and lost to South High of Torrance in the championship game of their own Tournament. The most intriguing fact about the Spartans isn’t whom they’ve beaten, but what happened in a troubling nonleague loss to La Salle (53-52) and why they needed overtime to defeat Keppel (64-62). The Spartans haven’t been tested in league in recent years, and some believe their lack of quality nonleague opponents has hurt their preparation for the playoffs. The Spartans were 20-0 when they faced their first tough test last year and lost to Colony in the shootout at APU. It was the Spartans’ only loss heading into the playoffs, where they struggled to a first-round win over Servite (57-55) and struggled in a second-round win over Northwood (49-45) before losing to Santa Margarita 55-39 in the semifinals. So for the Spartans, facing Pasadena on Saturday not only gives them a chance to be an underdog, but to find out where they stand. “There’s no question,” Hofman said. “PHS is one of the best defensive teams in the state. They’re going to test our guards and our half-court offense. This is definitely a preparation game for us, and probably more so for us than them.” [email protected] (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4485 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded cardThankfully, that’s about to change. Coaches of the top two schools in the Star-News area finally agreed it’s been long enough. The teams will face each other in a 7:30 p.m. game of Saturday’s Southern California Shootout at Azusa Pacific University. “I didn’t realize it’s been that long,” La Canada coach Tom Hofman said. “We’re looking forward to it. “You don’t want to downplay what you have to do in (Rio Hondo) league play, but this is an important game to find out what we’re made of. From a standpoint of quality, the setting and how PHS has represented the San Gabriel Valley, there isn’t a bigger game for us than this one.” PHS coach Tim Tucker agreed. In my four years on the prep sports beat at the Star-News, the most often asked question is this: Who would win if La Canada and Pasadena played one another? For some reason, Pasadena and La Canada haven’t played each other since 1995. THEY promised they haven’t dodged each other, though the coaches at Pasadena and La Canada high schools each have their own boys basketball tournaments and can invite whomever they want. They claim it’s just coincidence that the area’s top two programs haven’t met in a nonleague game in more than a decade.