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605 LEAGUE GIRLS BASKETBALL Strong Second Quarter Lifts Steaking Whitney Past Cerritos in League Opener for Both Teams

 

WHITNEY HIGH junior Layla Lacorte (right) tries to keep the ball away from Cerritos High senior Leilani Morante in this past Tuesday night’s 605 League contest. Behind a 24-point second quarter, Whitney defeated Cerritos 61-53 as Lacorte scored 15 points, all but three coming in the first half. Photo by Armando Vargas, Contributing photographer.

 

January 14, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

The 605 League opener for girls basketball was Jan. 4 but because of Covid cancellations and protocols, Cerritos High and Whitney High were unable to play the first two games. No one was sure how both teams would come out when they faced each other this past Tuesday, but if their first meeting is any indication, Whitney has the early edge on its first league title since the 2013-2014 season.

After the teams alternated on three consecutive scoring sprees, the Wildcats went on a 14-0 run in the second quarter and held on late for a 61-53 win. It was Whitney’s first game since Dec. 21 when it knocked off Santiago High 45-33. The Wildcats, ranked 16th in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AA poll, improved to 13-2.

“I think the first quarter showed that we haven’t played a game since Dec. 21,” said Whitney head coach Myron Jacobs. “I thought that we did good going into the last five minutes of the first quarter when we started letting our bodies and everything settle in. I think the biggest thing that we started doing was we changed the defense. We started running our game plan. We weren’t doing that at first.”

Cerritos scored the first four points of the game before Whitney answered with 10 straight, followed by the Dons countering with 10 straight as they led 14-10 less than a minute into the second quarter. That is when Whitney’s defense buckled down and its offense heated up. The hosts outscored Cerritos 24-4 in the second quarter, missed two shots in 13 attempts and got key baskets from junior Layla Lacorte and freshman Haylie Wang, both of whom combined for 20 points on nine of 11 shooting. They would finish the game with 15 points each while the latter had eight rebounds and four blocks.

“I’m going to tell you again, Haylie is a special freshman,” Jacobs said. “This kid is the real deal. I think today, everybody actually got the chance to see what I’ve been seeing every day at practice. And Layla…it’s no story. Layla has been doing this for three years.”

At one point, Whitney connected on 10 straight baskets, building an 18-point lead by halftime. But it would go from bad to worse, in the eyes of Cerritos head coach Marcus Chinen, as he would see his team get called for 16 fouls in the second half after getting five in the first half. While Whitney attempted only 19 shots in the second half, it was 10 of 19 from the free throw line in the second half and was called for eight fouls in the final 16 minutes.

Like Whitney, it had been a while since the Dons (7-5) had seen action, which was Dec. 18 in a 50-34 win against Norwalk High. But unlike Whitney, which suited up six players, Cerritos had the luxury of 14 of 15 player suit up.

“Yes, that could be it,” Chinen said of his team’s struggles in the first half. “But the second thing is I never blame anything on anyone, but if you look at the foul situation…I’ll just leave it at this, the refs decided the outcome of this game. That’s it.”

Whitney’s lead grew to 24 points with 11.7 seconds remaining in the third quarter, but the Dons made the game interesting with some shooting from beyond the arc. It began with a trifecta from senior Leilani Morante seven seconds into the final stanza. A half a minute later, senior Jasmine Uy’s three-pointer made it 51-33 and a minute later, senior Amara Hizon completed a three-point play. With 6:02 left in the game, a three-pointer from Uy began a 6-0 spurt that left the Dons trailing by 11 points with 4:46 remaining.

“Again, we have six girls and I had one timeout left, I think, at this point,” Jacobs said. “We realized it was better to run the clock than for us to try to keep on attacking. You play fast and you’re up and unfortunately, you miss baskets and they start hitting baskets and it’s going to be a ballgame.”

“Early on when we were getting hammered and…mentality-wise, it gets into the girls’ heads,” Chinen said. “And that’s exactly what happened. It got into their minds that there is no way they were every going to get any type of call. I don’t know what else to say. It’s not that I’m upset. I think I’m more upset for them because that could have been a winnable game. But again too, they played hard and they did their job and I can’t say anything [bad] about their effort.”

Whitney did not score a field goal in the final 7:06 but connected on eight of 12 free throws the remainder of the game. Meanwhile, the Dons were two of six from the field in the final 2:30.

“The only thing that frustrated me was we allowed them to get too many points in the key,” Jacobs said. “Our goal coming in was not to allow them to score in the key. Marcus is a great coach. Out of the four games I’ve played Marcus, this was the best shooting performance I’ve seen from his team. If you go back to the previous games, they never shot this many threes and made them.”

Whitney sophomore Kylie Wang led all players with 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds while junior Rachel Song added 10 points and seven boards. The Wildcats were scheduled to host Highland High this past Wednesday, Artesia High tonight and visit Oxford Academy on Wednesday.

“I’m proud of them,” Jacobs said. “I think we did a great job. I thought that they came into this game focused. Besides the part of a rocky start, I honestly think today showed what people are going to see throughout the season. It’s a team effort.”

Meanwhile, Cerritos received 16 points, two assists and two steals from Uy and 13 points and 11 rebounds from sophomore Onyeka Nwanze. The Dons are scheduled to host Pioneer High tonight, travel to Aliso Niguel High on Monday and go to John Glenn High on Wednesday.

“They just went out and played hard,” Chinen said. “They played through it, and we came up a little short. That’s the bottom line on that.”