When facing one of the top boys basketball teams in the Southland, the Venice High School Gondoliers were concerned only about their own agenda.

The Gondoliers did not need to be told that the Fairfax High School Lions (17-3, 7-0), ranked fifth in the Southland by the Los Angeles Times, are a powerhouse in Los Angeles City basketball. Venice (12-12, 3-5) just happens to play in the same league as defending city and state champion Fairfax, as well as another city basketball giant, Westchester High School.

While the Gondos fell short of pulling off a stunning upset, losing 73-60 to visiting Fairfax in a Western League game Friday, January 25th, coach Josh Herscher said the match-up allowed Venice to work on improving its own style of play.

“The only thing we were stressing is playing better within our system,” Herscher said of the game plan against Fairfax.

Venice senior guard Sean Ryozaki echoed his coach’s statement, saying that, while the Gondos know Fairfax is bigger and one of the quickest teams in the city, they just wanted “to run our system.” Part of that system was to rebound better and cut down on turnovers against the defending league champion, said Ryozaki, who finished with 15 points, including three three-pointers, in the game.

It wasn’t the first time Venice had faced league leader Fairfax this season. The Gondos were handed a 79-67 loss when the two teams met earlier in the season, in mid-December.

In the second meeting, the Lions played without their star junior center, six-foot-ten-inch Renardo Sidney, who is one of the top players in the city, but Venice had enough of a challenge on its hands against the remaining Lions.

Fairfax showed its efficiency on offense right away, taking a solid lead on the heels of a nine-point performance by junior guard Lance Bailey in the first quarter. Venice struggled with early turnovers against the aggressive Fairfax defense, as the Lions roared out to a 23-11 lead at the end of the first quarter.

“We came out timid and it showed,” said Herscher, referring to his team’s early turnovers.

Ryozaki gave Venice its first seven points of the second quarter but Fairfax continued to roll, grabbing a 33-16 lead midway through the period. Venice then managed to trim the Fairfax lead a bit and got the deficit down to ten points with a minute left before halftime.

But Fairfax kept its comfortable lead by capitalizing on more foul shot opportunities and went into the break with a 40-27 lead.

Ryozaki hit back-to-back three-pointers at the start of the second half to try to ignite a Venice comeback but Fairfax wouldn’t let the Gondos get too comfortable. The Lions dominated the rebounds, allowing them to maintain their double-digit lead throughout the quarter. Senior Jordan Borucki, who led Venice with 17 points in the game, hit a three-pointer in the final seconds to cut the deficit to 58-45.

Herscher said Fairfax’s edge in rebounding made the difference in the contest.

“They got every put-back,” the Venice coach said.

The Gondos came within 11 points of Fairfax a couple of times in the fourth quarter but it was the closest they would get, as the Lions preserved their untouched league record.

Senior Shawn Harper added 12 points for Venice.

Senior guard Chris Solomon scored 19 points, including two three-pointers, to lead Fairfax and junior forward Solomon Hill was right behind with 18 points.

As the Gondos approach the final few games of the regular season, Ryozaki said they are improving each time they hit the court and are setting up for a playoff run.

“We’re getting better every single time and I think we’ll be ready for the playoffs,” he said.

Herscher agreed with his player.

“We’re beating the teams we should beat and we’re setting up perfectly for the playoffs,” the coach said.

Venice will next play at Palisades High School in a league game at 7 p.m. Friday, February 1st.

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