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Whitney’s R & R show stops South Torrance in championship game at John Glenn-Norwalk Basketball Classic


By Loren Kopff

So far, there really haven’t been too many surprises from the Whitney girls basketball team this season. Seniors Rachel Nagel and Reyna Ta’amu, one of the most prolific tandems in Southern California girls basketball, have been doing their thing, which pretty much is everything on the court.

South Torrance found out, but not surprisingly, the hard way last Saturday night in the finals of the 14th annual John Glenn-Norwalk Girls basketball classic. Nagel scored a game-high 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while Ta’amu added 21 points and pulled down 12 boards as the Lady Wildcats beat the Spartans 53-36. It was the second time these two teams have faced each other in the tournament. South Torrance beat Whitney 57-52 in the first round last season before the Lady Wildcats won the next three games.

“They know we played them [last year], they know we lost to them,” said Whitney head coach Jeff Day of his team. “But like I told the [South Torrance] coach before the game, this should have been the championship two years in a row. But there was no revenge. They’re a good team. We just looked forward to the challenge playing another good team.”

Whitney raced out to a 10-0 lead and led by three after the first quarter. The Spartans took their first and only lead of the game nearly three minutes into the second quarter on a basket from Claire Ogomori. But a three-pointer from freshman Nicole Lee paved the way for Nagel to score her team’s next seven points. By halftime, a 26-19 Whitney lead, Nagel and Ta’amu each had 10 points while Lee and fellow freshman Casey Chu each had a trifecta.

“It was a tough task,” said South Torrance head coach Bobby Imamura. “We knew ahead of time that [Rachel and Reyna] score 90 percent of the points. We knew that you can’t really shut those two players down, but we wanted to make them work as hard as they could. They made some tough shots. Also too, because we beat them last year in this tournament, we really made a point to make the other three on the floor beat us.”

Whitney put the game away by scoring the first eight points of the third quarter but it would play at a slower pace over the final 16 minutes. In fact, the Lady Wildcats attempted only 12 shots from the field in the second half, connecting on five of them. But at the same time, Whitney was 16 of 24 from the free throw line in the second half.

Day said he wanted to slow down the shot selections and rest his starters as much as he could. The starting five of Chu, Lee, Nagel, Ta’amu and senior Allison Tran scored all but one point in the game.

“We were doing a 3-2 zone and at halftime, [I thought] we’re still not doing a good job on our rotations,” Day said. “So I was going to go back to a 2-3 zone and they really didn’t attack at the high post. I thought our defense slowed them down, so they were using 20-25 seconds on their end of the court. I told my girls we needed to rest and we needed to use some of the clock.”

Nagel and Ta’amu were name co-most valuable players of the tournament, the first time that has happened in the 14 years, and both combined for 183 points, or 80 percent of the team’s offense in the tournament. Tran was named to the all-tournament team while Lee picked up the coach’s award.

“There’s more being asked of Reyna as far as she can do more,” Day said. “Yesterday in the St. Paul game before the game started, I told her if she didn’t score 30 points, I was going to be mad at her teammates or she just doesn’t want it that bad. I told her yesterday to prove that she’s the MVP of this tournament and she scored 32.

“The team got her the ball where she needed to get the ball,” he added. She’s doing a better job taking her time of being strong and finishing at the basket.”

Whitney began the tournament with a 57-27 win against Whittier Christian last Wednesday followed by wins over Santa Fe (56-47) and St. Paul (64-54).

Elsewhere in the tournament, the two co-hosts struggled mightily and did not even play against each other in a scheduled game last Saturday. It would have been just the third time the co-hosts would have met in their own tournament. Glenn defeated Norwalk in 2000 and again in 2003. It’s the first time in the history of the tournament that neither co-host played on the final day of the tournament.

Glenn (2-7) fell to Santa Fe 85-33, Whittier Christian 50-21 and Bassett 44-42 in overtime while Norwalk (0-4), which finished in fourth place in last season’s tournament, lost to Whittier 48-37, St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy 37-35 and Long Beach Jordan 62-35.

Gahr was making its first appearance in this tournament since 2009 when it fell to Glenn in the consolation championship game. The Gladiators (5-5) defeated Bassett 66-26 before losing to St. Paul 43-26, Santa Fe 53-45 and Whittier 41-36.

Valley Christian (2-5), in the tournament for the first time ever, lost to St. Paul 56-30 before picking up its second win of the season, a 40-26 triumph over Bassett. The Lady Crusaders then fell to Olympic League rival Whittier Christian 35-20 and St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy 33-27.