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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
Throughout most of the season, if not the entire season, the Whitney High girls basketball team has either lived by the three-pointer, or died with the three. Against Sage Hill High, with second place in the Academy League on the line, Whitney’s shooting was in a state of flux.
The Lady Wildcats took 70 shots from the field, shooting a deplorable 19 percent, and was seven of 45 from three-point territory in a 44-38 loss to the Lightning last Saturday. Whitney dropped to 11-10 overall, 7-4 in the league and was swept by Sage Hill this season. The Lady ‘Cats will enter the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division IV-A playoffs as the third place representative from the league.
“That’s the easiest loss I’ve been able to take all year,” said Whitney head coach Jeff Day. “We lost that game because we did not make baskets. Seventy shots in a high school game is ridiculous. Two or three times they hurt us in transition. We fought through it and we always battled back and kept it close. But we didn’t make shots.”
Whitney took a 5-4 in the first quarter on consecutive baskets from freshman Kiana Sanchez and a three-pointer from junior Nicole Lee. After that, the Lightning scored the next 12 points before sophomore LiMea Vera drained a three-pointer with 6:34 remaining in the half. The hosts cut into Sage Hill’s lead by scoring the final eight points of the half to trail 22-18 at the break. Vera scored 11 of her team-high 14 points in the second quarter.
One area that was keeping Whitney in the game was the rebounding, where it grabbed 32 boards but of those, 19 came on the offensive end. Senior Annika Brandes had a team-high 10 rebounds with six offensive boards in the first half. Sanchez had four of her seven rebounds come under the Whitney net in the fourth quarter alone while senior Heather Cook and freshman Christine Hamakawa each added five rebounds.
“A lot of that comes from the shots we took,” Day said. “They’re going to be long rebounds and they send their girls. They want to run. Even though they had the inside position, when you’re 20-22 feet away from the basket, with your back to the basket, we have the advantage with the rebound because we’re facing the basket. So I’m not surprised with the 19 offensive rebounds.”
A three-pointer from Lee nearly midway through the third quarter brought the Lady ‘Cats to within two points at 26-24. But that was as close as Whitney would get. Sage Hill would extend the lead to 13 points again 40 seconds into the fourth quarter and Whitney failed on all 12 of its perimeter shots in the fourth quarter.
Despite the loss, Whitney’s defense held an opponent to under 50 points for the seventh straight game and 11th in the past 12 games. In fact, Whitney has allowed over 50 points three times with one of those coming to Sage Hill on Jan. 16, a 52-20 loss.
“Our defense speaks for itself all year,” Day said. “Look at our defensive scoring average. We keyed every game in league on the other team’s best player. I was like, ‘let somebody else’s second leading scorer or third leading scorer…step up. [Heather] Park for them, in the second round of league, is averaging 26 points a game. She scored seven [tonight].”
Lee scored 13 points but the other four Whitney starters combined for 11 points and Vera, whose point total was a season-high, was the only bench player to score. Whitney will still finish in the top three in the league for the 14th time in the past 15 seasons but will most likely face a league champion and/or a top eight team on the road when the playoffs begin next week.
“We put a lot of expectations on our shoulders,” Day said. “We really thought, after seeing everyone in December in our league, we could contend for a league title. With the exception of Sage the first time, we’ve had a chance to win every game in our league, regardless of injuries or any of that.”
Following the game, the Whitney boys were hoping for a signature league victory and were close to achieving that feat. But the Wildcats were true on two of 11 shots from the field in overtime and lost to Sage Hill 73-64. Coupled with a 30-point loss to Crean Lutheran High this past Tuesday, Whitney concluded the regular season at 8-12 overall and 3-9 in league action.
Whitney trailed by nine points in the first quarter but quickly responded with a 10-0 run that lasted into the first minute of the second quarter. Senior K.J. Hardrict began and ended that run with scores and would finish the game with a career-high 26 points on 11 of 14 shooting from the field. He also led the ‘Cats with seven rebounds.
Whitney would lead by as many as six points after sophomore Heaven Flores (17 points, six rebounds) began the second half with a three-pointer. But with 6:19 left in regulation, Chance Kuehnel put the Lightning in front and the visitors from Newport Beach would not trail until sophomore Daniel Sou (career-high 14 points) connected from downtown with 12.1 seconds left. After Dominic Sadeghi put Sage Hill back on top, a free throw from Flores with one second remaining sent the game into overtime.
From there, the Lightning scored the first eight points of the extra session and Whitney didn’t score until Hardrict ended the drought with less than a minute remaining in the contest.
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