Drew Cook never hesitated with his answer.
A senior point guard on the Beaver Falls boys basketball team, Cook quickly replied when he was asked about the Tigers' success this season.
"Our defense," he confidently stated.
The Post-Gazette's top-ranked Class AA boys basketball team, the Tigers owned a perfect 9-0 mark in Section 2-AA while maintaining a 13-3 overall record before Wednesday's non-section game against Central Valley. Beaver Falls was also outscoring opponents by an average of 17.1 points.
"Defense is a real big deal; [coaches] beat it into your head and its tradition here," said Cook, who lives in Beaver Falls. "They begin preaching defense starting in sixth, seventh and eighth grade, so that when it's your time to play varsity, you know it's expected."
Against Shenango last Friday, the Tigers shut out the Wildcats, 17-0, during the first quarter of a 65-27 victory.
"We talk about defense every year, and that's not just 'coachspeak,'" Beaver Falls coach Doug Biega said. "No team I've coached has bought into the defensive side of the ball as much as this group.
"We may not have the type of height like we've had in the past, but our kids get after the ball on defense. The guys have bought into that and we've been pleased with their defensive play.
"From the opening tip-off to the buzzer, they go after the ball."
Cook, a four-year starter, also has been a driving force behind the Tigers' success.
Averaging 16.5 points a game, Cook scored a game-high 27 points against Laurel Tuesday and in so doing surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his career. He had 1,015 through Tuesday.
"Drew is extremely underrated," Biega said. "Most of what he does on the court doesn't jump out on the stats sheet; he doesn't throw down dunks or toss out no-look passes. He just does everything right."
Playing aggressive defense, according to his coach, is one reason why Cook has been a consistent member of Beaver Falls' backcourt since his freshman year.
"What keeps him on the court just about every minute of every game is he plays tremendous defense," Biega said. "He never gets beat and keeps opposing guards in check. He plays exceptional defense and is one of the best guards I've ever coached.
"He's been a steady influence and a great asset to our team since the first day he walked through the door. He adds a lot of value and is a calming influence when he's on the court."
With Cook positioned as the Tigers' starting point guard, 6-foot-3 junior guard Elijah Cottrill, junior guard/forward Danny Stratton, senior guard Cadee Akins and sophomore guard Javon Turner make up Biega's starting five.
Senior guard Zachary Miller and senior Micoy Mason have also contributed valuable minutes off the bench this season.
Cottrill was second on the team in scoring with an average of 16.3 points a game.
"We all work well together," said Cook, who is a younger brother of Pitt outside linebacker Devin Cook. "We all get our fair share when it comes to points, but no one cares about that. No one is greedy.
"We're all about winning and we know that on any given night one of us might get hot, and we try to get that person the ball when they're hot."
The only teams to beat Beaver Falls this season have been New Castle, Montour and Lincoln Park. New Castle (Class AAAA) and Lincoln Park (Class A) are both ranked as the top teams in their respective classifications by the Post-Gazette, while Montour was considered one of the top Class AAA teams but recently dropped from the rankings.
"Coach scheduled these games for a reason," Cook said. "We'd rather see these tougher teams now during the regular season and they'll only help us for when we get into the playoffs."
Winning eight of its past nine games before Wednesday, Beaver Falls has a three-game lead on second-place Neshannock in the Section 2-AA standings. The Tigers resume section play against Riverside Friday.
"Momentum is everything at this point in the season," Biega said. "We've won five straight section titles and we want to win a sixth. The way we coach at Beaver Falls is that we play for the win. We don't play to get through a game. We want to win every single game we play."hsbasketball