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12TH ANNUAL MATSON CLASSIC – Early turnovers, shooting woes too much for Cerritos to overcome

January 27, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

ORANGE-The Cerritos High girls basketball team returned to the Matson Classic last Saturday afternoon at Orange Lutheran High, facing another top Orange County team hoping to pick up a signature victory. But the Dons turned the ball over three times within the first 2:43 of the game and gave up the first nine points with seven of them scoring off turnovers.

Cerritos was unable to recover from that, never getting closer than four points, and fell to Esperanza High 44-35. It was the fourth game of the week for the Dons, who dropped to 10-7 at that time.

“We can’t put ourselves in that situation,” said Cerritos head coach Marcus Chinen. “Going down nine, it’s really hard and sometimes when these girls play…we’ve had bigger deficits than [nine points] and we’ve come back and actually pulled off a win or lose by very little. But it always doesn’t work out that way.”

The first point for Cerritos came with 3:33 left in the first quarter on a free throw from sophomore Onyeka Nwanze and the first field goal came 12 seconds later, a three-pointer from junior Kaitlyn Sugita. The Aztecs, ranked 11th in the CIF-Southern Section Division I poll, led 13-8 after the stanza and increased their lead to nine points when Kaiya Mack and Anais Honadle scored within the first 45 seconds of the stanza.

Cerritos tried to make a dent into the lead and scored the next five points on another Nwanze free throw and successive buckets from senior Amara Hizon and Nwanze. But poor shooting plagued Cerritos throughout the game, which connected on seven of 27 shots in the first half and seven of 35 in the second half. Meanwhile, Mack was nearly a one-person show, scoring 10 points in the first half on five of 10 shooting from the field. She would add another basket in the third quarter, followed by eight straight free throws and led everyone with 20 points.

“We have to find a way to guard the other team’s better, or best player,” Chinen said. “That’s the one thing we have to do. We have to assign one player to do that, and they have to take it upon themselves to make it personal and try and stop their player. If we can do that and stop their other players, we should be fine.”

Down by nine points at the half, Hizon scored on one of her team-high three steals half a minute into the second half. Cerritos wouldn’t score again until Nwanze scored on a putback with 3:57 left in the stanza, but Esperanza went on a 10-7 run to lead by 12 points with 3:31 remaining in the game. And even though it wouldn’t score for the next 3:05, it was too little, too late for the Dons.

Only two starters scored for Cerritos with Nwanze leading the way, recording 15 points and 16 rebounds while Hizon added four points and three rebounds. Sophomore Mia Rivera had five of Cerritos’ 42 rebounds, but the team was held to its second-lowest point production.

Cerritos began the week defeating Kennedy High 62-56 on the road this past Monday and went to Artesia High this past Wednesday. The Dons will host Pioneer High today to make it seven games in 11 days.

“It’s tough because there’s no time to adjust to anything,” Chinen said. “Our practices…we have to do whatever fine-tuning there is to get them ready for playoffs. I told the girls we have 15 days left and in the 15 days, we only have five practices. It’s really tough to do that, especially when we’re trying to accommodate everything. We’re trying to accommodate makeup games and whatnot. I didn’t expect to be playing makeup games in between this; I don’t think no one has. But I guess you can say it is what it is. Everybody is facing the same situation.”

“They’ve done well because right now, on these single games; non-league games, it’s a good thing for us because we look at it as we have to go in there and we have to figure out who is going to be ready for the playoffs,” Chinen continued.

Because COVID-19 has forced the cancellations and postponements of numerous contests, the 605 League has decided to only count the first meeting with each other for its league record with the second meeting, if there is one, counting only towards someone’s overall record. With that said, entering this past week, Artesia and Whitney High were tied for first place at 2-0, followed by Pioneer (1-0) and Cerritos (2-1). The Dons are scheduled to wrap up the regular season at Pioneer on Tuesday and home against John Glenn High on Thursday. With six league games left to play in a possible 13 days, any of the two Artesia and Pioneer games are the only ones left that would count.

“Everyone is going to go at each other,” Chinen said. “Whatever games we have left, I think the two teams that we have, we’re going to go at each other and we’re going to have to go at each other because everyone is trying to play for a playoff position.”