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605 LEAGUE BASKETBALL : Cerritos girls survive hostile homecoming crowd to get past Whitney, stay in tie for second place

Cerritos High junior Kamse Okere drives between Whitney High senior Kiana Sanchez (left) and junior Janelle Ho in last Friday night’s 605 League girls basketball game. Okere came off the bench to lead the Lady Dons with 11 points in a 45-39 win. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.


By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

When the regular season began, and predictions were being made of the new 605 League, many had thought that Cerritos High and Whitney High would battle Oxford Academy for the girls title. However, not a lot would have predicted those two would play to stay out of fourth place once the second round of league play began.

That was the setting last Friday night for Whitney’s homecoming game as the Lady Wildcats were seeking to sweep Cerritos for the season. But the Lady Dons went on a 12-3 run for nearly four minutes from late in the first quarter to nearly midway through the second quarter and proceeded to escape with a 45-39 victory. The win left Cerritos at 13-8 overall at the time and 4-2 in the league, tied for second place with Pioneer High.

“The girls knew that they had to get this win,” said Cerritos head coach Marcus Chinen. “And, I think they were a little bit more focused than the prior games. I’m not saying that they were out of focus where they just thought it was just going to be a walkover game. It wasn’t that case. They just came in [here] and I think they were just a little overwhelmed. It’s a new league and when you look at it, it’s a crosstown rival now”

“I think we just got a little complacent and we weren’t really playing as a unit,” said Whitney first-year head coach Rachel Nagel. “We were kind of playing one on one basketball. We weren’t executing our plays. We were letting their pressure get us out of our rhythm.”

Both teams traded the lead four times in the first 4:17 of the game and Whitney built a 10-7 lead less than two minutes remaining in the stanza on a bucket from senior Justine Wu. Cerritos junior Kamse Okere tied the game off an offensive rebound 20 seconds into the second quarter and a minute later, freshman Halyne Buycks gave the visitors the lead for good.

Poor shooting would plague the Lady Wildcats (16-7, 3-3) all night and especially in the second quarter where they connected on just one of 12 field goals. Cerritos wasn’t that much better but was able to outscore the Lady ‘Cats 12-5 and go into the halftime break with a 21-17 advantage.

Cerritos began the second half with a mini 6-2 run over the first 5:38 as both teams continued to have shooting woes.

Whitney, which entered the game ranked 11thin the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA poll, then scored the next seven points and trailed by a point after freshman Eliana Amanuel scored 23 seconds into the fourth quarter. But the Lady Dons bounced back to go on an 11-3 to basically seal the game.

“Basketball is a game of ups and downs, and it’s just depending on which team is willing to buckle down and stick it out through those runs,” Nagel said. “I thought that Cerritos did a good job of staying composed, especially at the end when we were making a comeback.”

Whitney was able to claw back from a nine-point deficit to get it to three points with 1:43 remaining after a Wu basket. However, back to back baskets from freshman Amara Hizon in a span of 11 seconds iced the game.

Whitney High sophomore Kim Hosada (#10) tries to get past Cerritos High freshman Halyne Buycks in last Friday night’s 605 League girls basketball game. Cerritos won the contest 45-39 to move out a three-way tie for second place with Whitney and Pioneer High. Photo by Armando Vargas.


“I think the girls were a little nervous, a little antsy,” Chinen said. “The crowd was energetic. It kind of gave them adrenalin so they would speed something up and not play the game that we want to play. Also, too, they weren’t as relaxed as they were in the first [quarter].”

“I think they really mixed up their defenses a lot and that caught us off guard,” Nagel said of the difference between this game and the Jan. 3 win at Cerritos. “Just their ball pressure; we weren’t able to score the basketball towards the end, and I think that’s what it came down to.”

Wu led all scorers with 16 points while sophomore Kim Hosada grabbed 12 rebounds. Whitney’s shooting, as has been the case most of the season, was poor as it shot 24 percent from the field. In fact, the Lady Wildcats hit more free throws (16) than field goals (11) and at one point in the third quarter, missed on seven straight attempts.

“I think it’s when we are under high pressure situations, we kind of go into panic mode,” Nagel said. “Rather than looking to our teammates for guidance, we kind of go into tunnel vision and think, ‘you know what, I’m going to be the one to step up and win the game or be the hero’. But, that’s not the way you win games. You have to play as a team and play together.”

Okere came off the bench to lead the Lady Dons with 11 points while Buycks added nine points and 11 rebounds. Senior Alyxe Tamaki also pitched in with eight points. Cerritos wasn’t that much better in the shooting department, hitting on 26 percent from the field.

“I think by having those two, I’m not going to say it makes it easier, but it takes a lot of pressure off the guards,” Chinen said of Buycks and Okere. “Because now, we can go inside and then out, or we can go outside, and then in. We really need the rebounds.”

Cerritos, which also defeated Canyon High 54-49 this past Monday and John Glenn High 54-38 this past Wednesday, will take a 15-8 overall record into its road game at Pioneer tonight in a battle for second place. The Lady Dons, ranked 10thin the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA poll, will also visit Santa Margarita on Saturday and close out the regular season with home games against Artesia High and Oxford Academy on Tuesday and Thursday respectively.

“The final four games in league are going to be huge for us,” Chinen said. “It’s just one game at a time. We can’t look ahead; we have to concentrate on the next game and then so on and so forth.”

Whitney (17-7, 4-3), which knocked off Artesia 53-29 this past Wednesday, will visit Oxford Academy tonight, then entertain Pioneer on Tuesday before travelling to John Glenn on Thursday.

“We just need to not let these games affect us in the long run,” Nagel said. “It’s a learning process. We have to do a better job on the boards [and] we have to do a better job sharing the ball and scoring together rather than one on one. A lot of it is just our mentality of coming in and attacking the team rather than being complacent.”


Cerritos High senior Alyxe Tamaki (#23) is being guarded by Whitney High senior Christine Hamakawa in last Friday night’s 605 League girls basketball game. Cerritos defeated the Lady Wildcats 45-49, earning a split in the season series.


Following the game, the Cerritos boys went on a 17-0 run in the second quarter, then scored the first 16 points of the second half as part of an 88-24 win over the Wildcats. Coupled with a 58-27 win over Glenn this past Wednesday, the Dons improved to 13-11, 6-1 while Whitney fell to 4-20, 0-7, which includes a 66-28 loss to Artesia this past Wednesday.

Whitney led early, 7-5, after four and a half minutes. But a three-pointer from junior Jagger Uy put Cerritos up 10-7 and the rout was on. Whitney scored four points in the second quarter and finished the game with 10 baskets. Uy led everyone with 16 points while sophomore Obinna Ene scored 12 points off the bench and senior Joshua Ablir added a career-high 10 points, also off the bench. Senior Ethan Xu led the Wildcats with seven points.