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CIF-SS Div. 3AA GIRLS BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS – Cerritos holds on in the second half to upset Canyon, moves on to the semifinals

Cerritos high school logo, don

February 23, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Marcus Chinen has been the head coach of the Cerritos High girls basketball team for eight seasons, compiling 141 wins. In the 214 games he has coached, he has never taken his teams to the CIF-Southern Section divisional semifinals until now.

For the second time in school history, with the other time coming during the 2004-2005 season, Cerritos will be going to the semifinals, thanks to a gritty 45-42 win against Canyon High out of Canyon Country last Saturday in a Division 3AA quarterfinal contest.

The Cowboys had entered the contest as the division’s top-ranked team and because of that, Chinen considered the game as his biggest win in his time with the Dons.

“I think this is the biggest one, regular season or playoffs, because if you win it in the playoffs, it’s huge for us,” said Chinen.

The reason why the Dons, tri-champions of the 605 League but unranked in the playoffs, traveled to Yucca Valley High this past Wednesday in a semifinal game is the way they never gave up, despite never leading for the first 11:45 of the game. The Cowboys scored the first six points of the game and led by that margin two other times in the first quarter.

With just under a minute remaining in the stanza, senior Madhuri Suresh drained a pair of free throws, tying the game at 11-11. But a pair of baskets from Jade Sims enabled Canyon to go up 18-13 almost two minutes into the second quarter. That’s when Cerritos made its charge to get back in the game as it ended the half on an 8-6 run, taking the lead twice for the first time in the game, but the Dons still trailed 24-21 at the half.

Chinen’s halftime speech seemed to spark the team because senior Amara Hizon scored once, followed by a pair of baskets from sophomore Onyeka Nwanze and with 5:53 left in the third quarter, Cerritos had its biggest lead at 27-24. Both teams would trade baskets until Hizon’s only three-pointer in the game gave the Dons a four-point lead with just under a minute left in the third quarter.

“I just told them they needed to dig in,” said Chinen of his halftime speech. “It comes from the heart and that’s basically how we’re going to win this game. We have to play really scrappy, we have to play with intensity and we have to play with heart. When they came out in the second half, they surprised a lot of us. When we went on that little run, that I think was one of the turning points of the second half.”

Nwanze began the final quarter with her fourth offensive putback to give the Dons their largest lead of the game. Then Canyon went on a 9-0 run to own a 39-36 lead with five minutes left to play. But the hosts dug deeper and scored the next eight points after Hizon’s two free throws with 1:16 left in the game. A three-pointer from Genesis Gonzalez, her second of the stanza, brought the Cowboys within a pair of points with 63 seconds remaining.

It was still 44-42 when Aaliyah Garcia’s tying attempt didn’t go in. Senior Jasmine Uy grabbed the rebound and Chinen called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left. Less than two seconds later, junior Emily Hosoda iced the game with a free throw and a three-point try from Gonzalez was unsuccessful in the final seconds.

“I think we learned that, honestly, towards the second half of the season,” said Chinen of his team’s resiliency. “Because, the second half of the season, we played some teams that were really, really physical on us and we know that going into these playoffs, all the teams are going to be pretty physical, or fast, or even big.

“We were undersized the last game and I think we learned from that; that we could play against the big,” he continued. “This game right here, they were fast and they have pretty good shooters, and we were able to identify who are the shooters.”

Another key to the win was getting Canyon’s leading scorer, Garcia, into foul trouble. She was averaging 12.1 points per game but scored nine points in the game, all in the first half, and picked up her fourth foul with 2:22 left in the third quarter. Through the first three quarters, she was two of 14 from the field. Josie Regez, the second-leading scorer on the team with a 10.3 average, was held to seven points.

“That was key because everything runs through her,” said Chinen of Garcia. “She’s a great little player and she’s going to be a great little player next year. If you watched them, everything went through her and when we were able to kind of contain her, it gave us a chance.”

The Dons received a huge performance from Nwanze (19 points, 19 rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots) while Hizon added nine points and four rebounds.

“She’s the one that we go to,” said Chinen of her tallest player. “Amara and Jasmine and [senior] Michelle [Lee] and Emily…all four of those girls played well throughout the game and having Onyeka there I think gives them a little bit more confidence.”

If that game was the biggest one Chinen has been a part of, then this past Wednesday night’s game at Yucca Valley was even bigger as the Dons pulled away from the host Trojans in the third quarter and earned a spot in the title game for the first time in school history. Cerritos outscored the 12th ranked team in the division 18-3 in the third quarter and left the low desert community with a 64-51 victory. Cerritos (20-7) will host upset-minded La Salle High on Saturday. The No. 3 Lancers (26-2) stunned second-ranked Hart High 49-43 this past Wednesday night at Hart.

“If I just have to say one word, it’s heart,” said Chinen. “These girls have heart and that’s basically all I can to say. They worked hard through the whole season. I did say one thing to them. We lost five games during the regular season. I said get five games back [and] we got five games back.”

Lee and Uy alternated baskets and assists within the first 39 seconds of the second quarter to give Cerritos a 19-15 lead and the team never looked back. Leading 38-30 at the break, the game was put away by an 8-0 run to begin the second half as Uy and Nwanze each scored four points in that stretch.

Another key factor was shutting down Yucca Valley’s big shooter, Malia Ulrey, in the stanza. After getting 16 points in the first half, she scored the only points her team would get in the third quarter, then equaled her first half performance in the fourth quarter alone to lead all scorers with 35 points, including seven of 12 from three-point territory.

“She’s a great shooter inside and out,” said Chinen. “So, we were able to contain that, and we did our job. I think they figured her out towards the end what they needed to do, and they learned how to play her throughout the game.”

Nwanze paced the Dons with 21 points and 16 rebounds while Hizon added 18 points, four three-pointers and three steals and Uy chipped in with 13 points, three rebounds and three assists.

“This was one of the best I’ve seen out of her,” said Chinen of Hizon. “It’s all inside her heart. That’s what she had tonight.




Award-winning HMG-CN is a  hyper -local community news and investigative reporting print newspaper in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.  Covering Cerritos, Artesia, Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood, Norwalk, La Mirada Lamplighter Community Newspaper, La Palma, Commerce, Downey, Bellflower, Pico Rivera.


    What about the CHS win on 2/23/22 against Yucca Valley, the actual semifinal game.