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2017 JOHN GLENN-NORWALK GIRLS BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT: Gahr’s shooting, offensive rebounding goes cold in championship game

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

After finishing in seventh place in the Brea Olinda Tournament to begin the season, the Gahr High girls basketball team made a huge jump in one week, playing for the championship of the 2017 John Glenn-Norwalk Varsity Classic. However, poor shooting and the lack of rebounding on the offensive end plagued the Lady Gladiators for much the game as they fell to Bell Gardens High 48-35 last Saturday night at Norwalk High.

“We couldn’t get any rhythm,” said Gahr head coach Rob Godwin. “We missed tons of shots today. That’s just what it was. We had our opportunities to put up shots. But we just missed them. Our motto is defense, and we let them score 48. If we hold them under 40, it will be a different game.”

The only lead Gahr had was the game’s opening basket by senior Angelina Jacobe 52 seconds in. After that, the Lancers went on an 8-0 run and led by as many as 11 points late in the quarter. Gahr shot five of 11 from the field in the first eight minutes, but just nine of 35 the rest of the way. Gahr was also missing the services of senior Nori Smith, who was elbowed in the jaw during the Brea Olinda Tournament. She was supposed to be cleared to play this past Tuesday.

Without her, the Lady Gladiators suffered in the rebounding department, getting 24 for the game but only three under their own basket and not until the second half.

“I think we were fighting with our bigs down there, but our guards need to crash the boards a little bit more,” Godwin said. “So, it’s just work because I think they stayed out there on the perimeter too much watching instead of crashing in for rebounds.”

Gahr tried to make it a game several times but was simply too deep in a hole from the first quarter. Senior Dezirae Smith’s only first half basket made it 26-18 with 4:41 left in the half, a three-pointer from sophomore Clarissa Heredia with 59 seconds left in the third quarter made it 36-28 and another Smith basket almost two minutes into the final stanza cut Gahr’s deficit to eight again. It wouldn’t dip below eight points the remainder of the game.

Heredia led the Lady Gladiators with 11 points and 11 rebounds while senior Naomi Ellis, who had been playing strong coming into the contest, was limited to five points, all in the first quarter.

“I can say this was a tough game for her,” Godwin said. “She was productive more last week. But coming into this week, she was getting over the flu. So, we’re trying to get her up to par, but you know how that is when kids are sick.”

Gahr began the tournament with a 49-26 win over Bassett High on Dec. 6 before getting past Whittier High 52-47 the next night. The de facto championship game might have been last Friday night when Gahr hooked up with Whitney High and rallied for a 51-47 victory. Gahr trailed by six points midway through the third period but didn’t seal the win until Ellis scored off a pass from Heredia with 17 seconds left to make it 49-45.

“The last two or three games we played, including Whitney, were tough games,” Godwin said. “Coming into [the Bell Gardens] game, I think it might have tired us out a little bit, playing back to back tough games. But I don’t believe we came with our best effort tonight.”

The Lady Wildcats held a 12-9 advantage late in the first quarter before Gahr scored nine straight points to end the stanza, then took a 23-13 lead following Ellis’ three-pointer with 5:34 left in the half. But Gahr would score just two points the remainder of the half while the defense was watching junior Christine Hamakawa nail three perimeter shits in the second quarter and five for the half.

Despite Whitney leading 35-29 midway through the third quarter, Hamakawa was being silenced by Gahr’s defense, which was a turning point in the contest. She was held without a shot in the second half and the Lady Wildcats got three baskets from three different players in the quarter.

“Well, we box-and-one’d her,” Godwin said of Hamakawa. “We probably had three different girls that we put on her all through the rest of the second half. We figured if we could stop her, then that basically was how far the team was going to go. We wanted to make everybody else contribute.”

“We ran our man offense and stayed the same as in the first half, scoring about 25 points in each half,” said Whitney head coach Jeff Day.

A steal and basket from Jacobe put Gahr up 43-41 but the game-winner came with 2:12 left to play when Heredia drained a three-pointer. Smith led Gahr with 16 points while Ellis added 13 more, plus 11 rebounds. Heredia also grabbed nine boards as the Lady Gladiators were 4-4 heading into their Dec. 14 contest at El Dorado High.

“I believe this is probably the best year as far as competition that we’ve had in the last two years,” Godwin said. “We’re playing more tougher teams that I think are going to help us down the line for league.”

As for Whitney, junior Justine Wu and freshman Julianna Lee each scored 10 points against Gahr, but was outrebounded 38-22. Whitney had previously defeated Lifeline Charter High 57-16 and Santa Fe High 42-26 prior to the Gahr game, then claimed third place in the tournament with a 46-32 win over Mary Star of the Sea High last Saturday night.

“I look at games and performance, not place in an event,” Day said. “From the Santa Fe game onward, we executed our half-court offense and controlled the tempo for the most part in all games which gave us an opportunity to be successful in this tournament.”

Against Mary Star of the Sea, the Lady Wildcats put the game away with eight straight points to end the first half and hold a 30-21 advantage. Wu had a pair of three-pointers in the second quarter and led Whitney with 13 points. She also had three steals, as did Hamakawa while junior Kiana Sanchez and freshman Kim Hosada each had four thefts.

“Christine is our captain and leader on the court,” Day said. “Justine is our one constant that must be aggressive and involved for a successful and balanced offense. In this event, they both were that.”

The win over Mary Star of the Sea left the Lady Wildcats at 5-4 at the time, which is about where Day thought his team would be after nine games.

“Our defense has controlled tempo as well,” Day said. “The main concern is no inside strength, no toughness, no rebounding and playing physical by any of us. This will be necessary onward, especially against the better teams in our league.”

Whitney began play in the 41st annual Valley Christian Tournament and defeated Westminster High 59-46 this past Monday and before falling to Long Beach Wilson High 48-41 this past Wednesday as Hamakawa scored a season-high 18 points. Whitney will wrap up the tournament on Saturday, then have the rest of the month off.