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Cerritos goes cold in second half, lose first league game

By Loren Kopff

The Cerritos Lady Dons basketball team was four wins away from a perfect Suburban League season and was looking to clinch at least a share of the league championship this past Monday night. But Mayfair, the defending league title holders had other plans and rallied from six points down in the third quarter to knock off Cerritos 57-52.

Cerritos led wire to wire in the first half and led by as many as eight points late in the second quarter, 31-23, following a basket from senior guard Alyssa Movchan. But after senior guard Taylor Hirata nailed her only three-pointer of the game almost two and a half minutes into the third quarter, the visiting Monsoons went on a 12-0 run and never looked back.

“It was basically, on both sides, defense,” said Cerritos first-year head coach Marcus Chinen. “We both did a good job. There were a lot of turnovers both ways. Our offense just wasn’t there today and that’s something that, I guess could be a concern. But, we should be able to think about defense and pick it up that way and get some points off of that.”

Cerritos, which turned the ball over only three times in the first half, couldn’t pull away from the Monsoons on the first half as Ariel Augustine (12 points) and Bianca Silva (eight points) were doing most of the damage. But Mayfair, which still had a chip on its shoulders following a 56-53 overtime loss to Norwalk on Jan. 28, had one thing on its mind in the second half.

“Heart,” said Mayfair head coach Joe Pacheco. “My saying is don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion. That’s what I challenged them on today…their heart, knowing that they have a two-game lead on us and we’re coming in here to make a statement that we’re a good team.”

Cerritos ended its scoring drought within the first minute of the fourth quarter when Movchan went coast to coast for a basket. Then junior forward Tatiana Fominyam had a steal and fed a pass to Hirata who cut the Cerritos deficit to two points at 44-42.

But the Monsoons refused Cerritos to tie or even regain the lead the remainder of the game as Silva, who finished with 16 points, scored half a dozen points in the final stanza. Meanwhile, Cerritos was still plagued with poor shooting. After going two of 19 from the field in the third quarter, the Lady Dons connected on five of 16 shots in the fourth quarter.

“We went cold and if you have a bad shooting night, then that’s the outcome,” Chinen said. “Mayfair is a great team and like I was telling the girls earlier, you can’t fall asleep on any team, regardless on if it’s a team at the top or a team on the bottom.”

“We did a triangle two on [Movchan and Hirata] because I knew they were the key and our defense did a great job,” Pacheco said. “I told my girls, ‘do not let them breathe. I want, at the end of the game, to let me know what they had for breakfast’. I told them not to worry about man to man principals that we teach. Our goal was to get them tired. I think it worked [because] their shots were falling short.”

Movchan led Cerritos with 18 points and nine rebounds and averaged over 15 points in seven of the eight games she played against the Monsoons during her high school career. But she was five of 22 from the field. Sophomore guard Cailey Vitug and Fominyam added 13 and 12 points respectively but again, the story of the night was shooting. Cerritos shot 27 percent from the field. Cerritos was also hampered with the fact that its 6’1” center, sophomore Ifeoma Okoli, got into foul trouble early and missed half of the second quarter. While she had five rebounds in the game, she fouled out with 2:22 left to play.

“Ifeoma changes a lot of things, regardless whether she’s playing defense or offense,” Chinen said. “Teams tend to look at that because they’ll pinch over a little bit more if they think she’s going to make a lay-up. And on defense, they’ll try to stay away from her or what not. Ifeoma is a game changer. You can’t replace a six-footer in the middle, and the same with them, too.”

Cerritos, which has not won a Suburban League title since 2008, was looking to wrap up its fourth such accomplishment since bolting from the Mission Valley League following the 1997-1998 season. In each of the three previous Suburban League championships, the Lady Dons have gone 11-1, proving how tough it is to go 12-0.

“It’s tough and people don’t realize that,” Chinen said. “There are a lot of people out there who talk about our league and how it’s weak. If they want to talk about how weak our league is, I want them to come in and play in this league. We have at least four or five teams that can compete against each other on any night.”

“On any given night, it’s tough,” Pacheco said. “Coming into Cerritos [High], it’s always games like this. I love games like this.”

Cerritos improved to 17-7 overall and 9-1 in the league after slamming Artesia 59-17 this past Wednesday. Fominyam had a game-high 14 points and eight rebounds while Hirata and Vitug each added 10 points. Okoli grabbed seven rebounds and had four blocks and freshman guard Tracey Nakamura chipped in with a career-high nine points on three three-pointers. The Lady Dons will wrap up the season at Bellflower on Tuesday and home against John Glenn on Thursday when it can win the title outright.

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