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CORONA DEL MAR TIP-OFF TOURNAMENT – Cerritos girls basketball manages early season challenge, takes third place in tournament

The Cerritos High girls basketball team poses with its third place trophy from the Corona Del Mar Tip-Off Tournament. The Dons knocked off Newport Harbor High 48-35 last Saturday for their third straight victory after a season-opening loss. Sophomore Onyeka Nwanze was named to the all-tournament team as she scored 108 points in the four-game event. PHOTO BY LOREN KOPFF.


November 30, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter


NEWPORT BEACH-Cerritos High girls basketball head coach Marcus Chinen admitted he had no idea what to expect when his team kicked off the season by taking part in the Corona Del Mar Tip-Off Tournament. Chinen said he wanted to put his team in a new tournament to face new teams and challenge his group of 11 returning players plus five newcomers.

Mission accomplished, as the Dons squared off against defending CIF-Southern Section 4A champion Newport Harbor High in the third place game last Saturday afternoon and came away with a 48-35 victory. After falling to Portolla High in the first game of the season, Cerritos bounced back with three wins in the next five days.

“We did well; we did well coming out of it,” Chinen said. “One of the games, we were down by a lot and came back into it. So, the girls learned from that. In another one, we were up pretty much most of the game and lost the lead and had to come back and take the lead and we learned how to finish off games today.”

Cerritos led Newport Harbor for all but 17 seconds, going on scoring runs of 7-0 in the first quarter, 8-0 to end the first half and 6-0 to begin the second half, on top of holding a 16-point lead near the midway part of the fourth quarter.

Right out of the gates, sophomore Onyeka Nwanze was a thorn in the sides of the Sailors, scoring six points in the opening stanza, grabbing eight rebounds, three on the offensive side, and assisting on senior Madhuri Suresh’s second basket of the game 98 seconds into the contest. Nwanze, who was named to the all-tournament team, scored a game-high 26 points on 12 of 19 shooting from the field and grabbed 19 rebounds. For the tournament, she scored 107 points. Two other players would score in double figures during the tournament, and that occurred in the same game.

“She set the tone early; made us go out there and play defense and play smart,” Chinen said. “One thing we want to do is we do want to get her the ball, then when we get her the ball, hopefully she makes the right moves to score. And she’s learning how to look for the open shooter on the outside.”

The Dons were up 13-7 early in the second quarter before the Sailors scored five straight points. After a Nwanze basket, Emma Coatsworth and Chase Dionio scored consecutive baskets, the latter on a steal as Newport Harbor took its lone lead at 16-15 with 1:40 remaining in the half. But Cerritos responded in a big way by ending the half with eight straight points.

“The middle to the end of the first half, we knew that we had to step it up defensively,” Chinen said. “And we knew that at that point. We weren’t playing the best basketball. We had a few turnovers here and there that could have turned the game around. But the girls, through this whole tournament, learned how to play through that.”

If that wasn’t enough, Nwanze began the second half with three straight baskets, two of which came off offensive rebounds. The Sailors wouldn’t be the same the remainder of the game as they wouldn’t consecutive baskets until late in the game when Cerritos was already leading by 16 points. Nwanze would score a dozen points and grab eight rebounds in the third quarter alone. Then in the fourth, four different players scored, five players combined for 10 rebounds and Suresh had a pair of assists.

“That was a great turning point right there,” Chinen said. “We look at Madhuri to be the leader out there because we lost [senior] Amara [Hizon] to an injury the game before, and we didn’t have Jasmine the whole tournament. So, the girls learned how to play without Jasmine, and they learned how to play without Amara. Now they know that without two of their leaders, they’re able to pull off some wins.

“We always say next man up,” he later added. “If someone goes down or if someone can’t make it for some reason, it’s always the next man up. That’s what we’ve been telling the girls, even since last year when we lost Amara to a broken hand.”

Hizon injured her knee against Segerstrom High in the third game of the season. Suresh would score half a dozen points in the game while senior Michelle Lee added five points and a team-high four steals.

In the opening game of the tournament on Nov. 22, Cerritos couldn’t rally from a 24-15 first quarter deficit, mostly due to four three-pointers and 14 points from Moka Saiki and fell to Portolla 62-54. Nwanze scored a game-high 27 points while Suresh added seven points. The next day, the Dons trailed the host school 31-21 at the half and 45-33 heading into the fourth quarter before outscoring the Sea Queens 21-10 in the fourth quarter, sending the game to overtime. In the end, Cerritos posted a 63-56 victory as sophomore Faith Lacorte scored 16 points while Nwanze and Hizon pitched in with 15 and 12 points respectively.

Cerritos would go into Thanksgiving with a 71-66 win against Segerstrom, pulling away in the fourth quarter with 26 points. Nwanze posted a career-high 39 points against the Jaguars with 22 coming in the second half. After not playing the first full week of the season, which began on Nov. 15, the Dons will be off until Tuesday when they face Tesoro High in pool play action of the Sunny Hills Tournament. Cerritos will also play Sunny Hills High on Wednesday and El Dorado High on Thursday to complete pool play action.

“We wanted to pick some games up this week. But we weren’t able to find any,” Chinen said. “So, this week is just going to be get back to tuning some things. Hopefully if any girls are injured, we can get them heeled and ready to go for the next tournament. Then from there, it just kind of rolls in because we go [from] tournament to a couple of games here and then we go back to practice, and we end up with a tournament at the end of December.”