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Hirata, Mura pace Cerritos to third place finish in final preseason tournament

By Loren Kopff

It was a win that Cerritos girls basketball head coach Arial Adams will gladly take but that doesn’t necessarily mean she was completely satisfied. On most days, when you win by 18 points, as the Lady Dons did this past Monday night in a 65-47 victory over Hamilton, you’re happy.

But Cerritos was up by 26 points near the end of the first half and again early in the third quarter and failed to keep the pedal to the metal. The California Interscholastic Federation-Los Angeles City Section Yankees refused to let Cerritos completely blow them out of the Gahr High gymnasium in the third place game of the Gahr Girls Varsity Winter Classic. Hamilton got to within 16 points late in the third quarter and hovered around the 20-point deficit throughout most of the second half.

“That is something we struggle with as a team,” Adams said. “That’s characteristic of us. We don’t know how to win by 30 or 40 points. It’s a mindset that we don’t necessarily have. So it’s that, coupled with the fact that we had so many players who haven’t played the entire tournament.”

Cerritos (8-3) dominated the first quarter, leading 24-6 and shooting 50 percent from the field as eight of the 13 players on the team scored. It was more of the same in the second quarter as Cerritos led 37-11 with 31. 6 seconds remaining in the half following a pair of free throws from senior Lauren Rhea.

The story of the first half was the performance put in from senior Tori Mura. She had eight points and seven rebounds in the half and finished with a career-high 14 points. She only missed two shots from the field and scored in double figures for just the second time this season.

“Tori is very capable of doing that every single night,” Adams said. “But she also knows her role as a player. I’m not surprised by the rebounds at all. She’s a physical player and if her conditioning was up to par, we would keep her in a lot longer. For her to score 14 points is a confidence thing.”

In contrast, the team’s leading scorer, junior Alyssa Movchan, was limited to only five points and was one of eight from the field. Movchan, who is averaging 13.4 points this season, was held to five or fewer points for the second time in the tournament. Movchan was the team’s lone all-tournament representative.

“I think Alyssa was running around doing everything else,” Adams said. “I think in a perfect world, she would rather be a two [guard]. But in our world, she has to be the point guard and as a point guard, you have to protect the ball, move the ball up and play defense. When other people around her are successful, then she’s able to score 20 or 25 points.”

Junior Taylor Hirata also scored a season-high 14 points and had three steals. Senior starter Stacey Suzuki and freshman Cailey Vitug, who came off the bench, each added seven points as 11 players scored. Cerritos also grabbed 38 rebounds and had 15 steals.

The Lady Dons began the tournament with a 46-24 win over Channel Islands last Thursday afternoon, followed by a 56-41 win over Long Beach Wilson last Friday night before falling to eventual champion J.W. North 61-36 last Saturday night.

Of the three losses thus far, two have been blowouts with the other one a one-point loss to Gahr on a buzzer-beater. Cerritos will host North Torrance today in a rematch of last season’s first round playoff tilt.

“When I look back at the record, I’m definitely pleased with the record,” Adams said. “I think a lot of people wouldn’t have expected that from Cerritos. I know that we have so much more. I know that our bench could be stronger and I’m a little nervous because I know that if we come out and play like [the second half] in league, we’re not going to be league champions.”

Earlier in the day, Gahr welcomed the return of senior volleyball standout Oluoma Okaro and posted a convincing 66-23 win over La Mirada. Okaro, who had been sidelined with an ankle injury for the past four games, tied a career-high of 14 points and pulled down 11 rebounds coming off the bench.

“She’s a six-footer and without her we don’t have very much rebounding,” said Gahr head coach David Garcia. “She was out for two weeks and I [also] lost my point guard, [senior] Ra’vyn [Bowser] for a week and a half. So, in two tournaments, I haven’t had a full squad. She’s still learning the game and today was actually the first day we had everybody together.”

Gahr’s victory was never in doubt as the Gladiators outscored the Matadores 13-2 in the first quarter and built a 30-10 lead by halftime. All but six of those points were scored by Bowser, who finished the contest with 24 points and eight steals. She combined for 94 points in the four-game tournament.

Also having fine performances were freshman Miranda Ta’amu (12 points, seven rebounds) and senior Chidera Agu (10 points, seven rebounds). Ta’amu, whose older sister Reyna is a senior at Whitney, is one of two freshmen in the starting lineup and hasn’t disappointed Garcia. She has scored 49 points in the last five games and has reached double figures in three of those games.

“As days go by, she’s starting to learn more and more what I expect,” Garcia said. “Right now, she’s only maybe a 50 percent basketball player and 50 percent volleyball. But hopefully within the next month, she’ll be more of a basketball player. She hasn’t figured it out how physical the game is yet and how fast it is. But it will come.”

Gahr began the tournament with a 62-60 loss to Hamilton last Thursday night but rebounded for a 64-41 victory against St. Pius-St. Matthias Academy last Friday afternoon. The Gladiators then fell to St. Mary’s 51-36 last Saturday afternoon.

The Gladiators (7-7) will visit Lakewood tonight and then will be off until Jan. 15 when they host Warren in the San Gabriel Valley League opener. But for the first time since the opening game of the Glenn/Norwalk Tournament, Gahr finally has its full squad.

“I’m not making any excuses but those are two vital parts of the puzzle,” Garcia said of Bowser and Okaro. “Obviously when you don’t have a point guard, it’s hard to win games. We haven’t really peaked yet. I think it’s going to take at least another month. But as soon as all seven start playing together, I think we’ll be fine.”

 

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