Azalea Middle School's 2012 boys basketball season opened Thursday as the Redwood Raiders of Fort Dick, Calif. came to visit.
Behind the inside work of David Freeman, 12 points and 9 rebounds, Azalea overcame a slow start to win 46-16.
"We have a team that is very athletic, Azalea seventh-grade Head Coach Jason Fulton said. "Our expectations are high and even though our talent level is not what it could be, we want students first, then good people, then basketball players."
Azalea had quite a height advantage and used it wisely.
The Bruins pounded the ball inside to Freeman and turned guards Fernando Lira, 8, and Joseph Johnson, 6, loose to penetrate the lane.
Fulton used a platoon system of substituting, giving the 12-man squad a good amount of playing time.
With nine of the players getting into the scoring column, Azalea showed it has a deep bench that can be counted on for good quality minutes.
As a team, the Bruins shot 18-of-55 (32 percent) from the field and 58 percent on 10-of-17 from the free-throw line.
Watching the two teams go through their warm-up drills, they seemed to match up very well.
Both have good speed, ball handlers, and the desire to run and drive to the basket.
But, as the game progressed, it was very apparent the X factor that would decide the game was outside shooting.
Shooting was the big difference in the Raiders' 51-44 win as they outscored Azalea 20-4 from outside the lane, including two 3-pointers.
"We have a lot of athleticism," Azalea eighth grade Head Coach Keith Wallin said. "Our expectations have gone up and we will pressure our opponents."
The visiting Raiders jumped out to a 9-17 first quarter lead, but behind guard Shaan Amin, 14 points, and the inside work of Jordan King, 10, the Bruins got to within one, 25-26, at the half.
A basket by King early in the third gave Azalea a short-lived 29-28 lead.
But runs of five points and then six pushed the Raiders to a 41-32 lead going into the final quarter.
Redwood's lead mushroomed to 13 before Azalea got some turnovers to make the final seven-point deficit.
Azalea shot 33 percent from the field, going 15-of-45 while hitting 14-of-28 from the free throw line.
The teams hit the road next week, traveling to Gold Beach on Wednesday and Sunset on Saturday.