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605 LEAGUE BASKETBALL: Whitney girls rally in second half, hold off Cerritos in league opener


Artesia High sophomore Mariah Jarnet tries to keep the ball away from Whitney senior Kiana Sanchez in last Saturday night’s contest. Whitney defeated Artesia 68-34, improving to 15-4 overall  at the time and 2-0 in the 605 League. Sanchez scored seven points against the Lady Pioneers while Jarnet totaled half a dozen points. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer



By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


In one of the marquee games for the inaugural 605 League slate, the Whitney High girls basketball team visited former Suburban League champion Cerritos High in an early league season statement game. And the game lived up to what many had hoped for with these two new league rivals.

Down by six points at halftime, Whitney rallied in the second half, then staved off a late Cerritos surge in the final seconds to come away with a 46-44 victory last Thursday night. While it was a chance for both teams to prove that they are worthy of contending for a league title, along with Oxford Academy, it was just the first of 10 games on the league slate.

Whitney outscored the Lady Dons 12-5 in the third quarter but did not take the lead for good until 4:02 remained in the game when senior Justine Wu broke a 39-39 tie with a pair of free throws.

“I honestly think we just picked up our pressure and our tempo increased coming out of halftime,” said Whitney first-year head coach Rachel Nagel. “I felt like our energy had a boost, we were pressuring the ball a lot which cause a lot of turnovers and then they were taking more rushed shots. We were being more aggressive.”

As for Cerritos, head coach Marcus Chinen said his players were disappointed that they lost their home opener and that it left a bad taste in their mouths. The Lady Dons were hoping for their 13thstraight league win and 26thin the last 27 league contests.

“In the very beginning, I think both teams were trying to figure each other out,” Chinen said. “I think by not having a couple of practices prior to this league opener kind of hurt not only our team, but I’m sure it hurt their team too. We made a lot of mistakes and they made a lot of mistakes. I think they capitalized more on our mistakes than we did on theirs.”

The first basket of the game didn’t come until over two and a half minutes had elapsed when Whitney junior Janelle Ho broke the ice. Cerritos would then go on a 9-1 run and led 9-5 after the first quarter. Back to back baskets from Whitney sophomore Kim Hosada allowed the visitors to tie the game at 18-18 with 3:00 remaining in the half. Ho and Hosada would combine for all but six of Whitney’s first half points. Meanwhile, Cerritos was leading despite 28 percent shooting from the field. The first half also saw both teams combine for 21 turnovers.

“I think there was a lot on the line,” Nagel said. “There were a lot of fans that came out. There was just a lot of energy, a lot of buzz going around the gym and I can tell the girls were nervous. We were anxious to finally start the game. It’s definitely a game we had marked on our calendar from day one.”

Whitney came out of the gates hot in the third quarter, going on an 11-4 run to take a 31-20 lead on a Hosada three-pointer. She began the fourth quarter with a basket to give the Lady Wildcats their largest lead of the game up to that point. Then with 5:50 left in the game, senior Christine Hamakawa, who had been silenced the entire contest, nailed her second perimeter shot to make it 37-34. In fact, the Lady Dons, which connected on six of 22 second half shots, would not lead at all in the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t do our job in the third quarter, defensively and offensively,” Chinen said. “Scoring five points in a quarter, you’re going to struggle. And you’ll struggle throughout the game if that happens.

“That’s what is going to hurt us if we continue to do that, where we can’t score for periods at a time, during the quarter or throughout the game,” Chinen later said. “I think that we need to do a better job finding easy shots, not only for our shooters, but for our post players too.”

Whitney built a 45-39 lead with 70 seconds left and even though a three-pointer from senior Lindsey Fujihiro brought the Lady Dons to within a point with 43.7 second remaining, they could only get off one more shot, and that came with under a second left to play.

Freshman Halyne Buycks led Cerritos with 11 points and 11 rebounds while senior Iris Lee added seven points. Whitney was paced by Ho (12 points and five rebounds off the bench), Hosada (11 points, 10 rebounds, four steals), Wu (10 points) and Hamakawa (six points, five steals, rebounds).

“Frustration, I think it was their little guards,” Chinen said of how his team felt. “I don’t think we played against a team that had guards of that size who were small and quick. Guards that we played were a little bit bigger.”

Two nights later, Whitney was cruising in the first half against Artesia High, leading 38-14 at the half, before letting off the gas pedal a bit in the second half. Still, the Lady Wildcats posted a 68-34 victory, but all was not happy with Nagel, who is waiting to see her team play a crisp, complete four-quarter game.

“I think we’ve struggled with it, especially in games where another team is coming out with a lot of energy,” Nagel said. “I think we just get a little more passive. So, we’re really working on that from the start. You can’t be afraid. If you get your shot blocked, if you get a turnover, whatever. But, it’s better than just being passive and not taking any shots.”

Whitney shot 11 of 34 in the second half and at one point in the third quarter, missed seven straight field goals. Artesia got as close as 20 points late in the third quarter before Whitney ramped up its intensity.

“The score is never the determination of how well your team is playing,” Nagel said. “You have to play to the best of your ability. It doesn’t matter if you’re winning by 20 or you’re losing by 20. If you’re going to play to the best of your individual ability, I’ll be okay with that. But when we start playing lazy…you can’t do this.”

The highlight of the night came from Wu, who scored a career-high 27 points on 13 of 17 shooting from the field. It’s the first time in two years and a day that any Whitney player had scored over 25 points in a game. The last time came on Jan. 6, 2017 when Nicole Lee poured in 28 points against Brethren Christian High.

“I think she was just aggressive from the start,” Nagel said. “We were looking for drives, looking for fast break opportunities and she was really running the floor and really wanted the ball. She wants to have that opportunity to score.”

Sophomore Julianna Lee added 14 points and 10 steals off the bench while Artesia was paced by junior Tina Labib (seven points), sophomore Ori Monis (seven rebounds, six points) and freshman Dayzhia Young (eight rebounds).

This past Tuesday, Whitney (15-5 overall, 2-1 in league) lost to arch rival Oxford Academy 58-38, which snapped a six-game winning streak. The Lady Wildcats began the week ranked fifth in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA poll.

Cerritos rebounded for a 53-18 win against John Glenn High last Saturday night and a 65-55 win against Pioneer High this past Tuesday, improving to 11-6, 2-1. The Lady Dons began the week ranked eighth in Division 3AA.

“Next week, we have to clamp down,” Chinen said. “We can’t fall asleep on any of those teams that we come up against. Hopefully this is a wake-up call for our girls that you have to come in and you have to be ready. Not every game is going to be a game where you’re going to walk in and you’re going to come out with an automatic win.”

On the boys side, Cerritos had little trouble in smashing Whitney 84-21, going on scoring runs of 15-0 in the first quarter, 17-0 in the third quarter and 17-0 in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Brian Lee scored a career-high 20 points and had seven rebounds off the bench while sophomore Evan Scammahorn and junior Luke Castrence each came off the bench to add 11 and 10 points respectively, both career-highs. Those three outscored the Cerritos starters by nine points. Junior Victor Ufondu led the Wildcats with six points.

Two nights later, Whitney lost to Artesia 52-28 as the game was put away in the third quarter when Artesia senior Heder Gladden scored six straight points, giving the Pioneers a 32-13 lead at the time. Junior Zaafir Haider led the Wildcats with a career-high 10 points and grabbed six rebounds while senior Ethan Xu added eight points and 10 rebounds.

Artesia got 13 points and five rebounds from Gladden and senior Joshua Jennings and a dozen points and five boards from junior Princeton Hoang.

Cerritos (9-11, 2-1) would fall to Pioneer 48-40 this past Tuesday while Whitney (4-16, 0-3) continued to struggle, losing to Oxford Academy 64-41. Both Cerritos teams will visit Artesia tonight and Oxford Academy on Tuesday to complete the first round of league action while Whitney travels to Pioneer tonight and hosts Glenn on Tuesday.