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14TH ANNUAL MATSON CLASSIC – Cerritos blown out by Esperanza while free throws cost Whitney against Sonora in tournament

January 15, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

ORANGE-The top two girls basketball teams in the 605 League stepped out of league last Saturday in preparation for their big meeting against each other on Wednesday and did not have the performances they were looking for. Whitney High shot 30 percent from the field and missed six free throws in a 47-44 loss to Sonora High last Saturday in the second of four games at the 14th Annual Matson Classic inside the Ellwein Center at Orange Lutheran High.

For the first two and a half quarters, the Wildcats and Raiders were in a battle with neither team holding an advantage of more than three points. There were 10 lead changes and six ties through the first 19:31 before Sonora’s Samantha Wilson sank a pair of free throws to give her team a 30-28 lead. After that, the Raiders went on a 7-5 run to end the stanza.

“We just stopped following the game plan and we started playing selfish basketball, not team basketball,” said Whitney head coach Myron Jacobs. 

Whitney held its biggest lead of the game late in the opening quarter when senior Kylie Wang had a steal, scored, was fouled, and converted on the ensuing free throw as the Wildcats led 12-9 with 2:12 left in the quarter. It would cap a 6-0 run by Whitney, which would trail 16-15 at the end of the stanza. She and junior Haylie Wang each would score five points in the quarter while freshman Alyssa So (three points) and sophomore Mady Macaraeg (two points) would account for the other scoring. In fact, those four would be the only ones who took a shot from the field for Whitney in the game.

The Raiders would own three-point advantages twice in the second quarter, the last at 22-19 with 3:11 left in the half before Whitney scored the next five points to lead by a bucket at the break. Kylie Wang had the last three of those points and had eight points in the half. However, she would be two of eight from the field before halftime and was four of 19 for the game. Macaraeg and Haylie Wang would finish the game shooting a combined eight of 18 from the field with the latter not attempting a shot in the second quarter.

“We didn’t play our best today,” said Jacobs. “We came out here and we emphasized a lot on lay-ups and free throws, but like I said, today was just one of those days. We didn’t know what we were going to get, seeing that the game plan wasn’t as tight as used to be, based on other opponents. We were trying to sneak in fix-up plays before we came in here today. But it’s still no excuse on missed lay-ups.”

While Sonora was perfect from the free throw line in the game (seven of seven), the ‘Cats missed four freebies in the first half. In the third quarter, Haylie Wang sank a pair of free throws with 5:36 left, giving her team a 28-26 lead. It would be the last time they would be in front. In fact, Whitney would miss seven straight shots from the field in the quarter as the Raiders stormed back to take a 35-30 lead before Kylie Wang ended the scoring drought.

When So scored her second basket of the game less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, Whitney was down 37-36. That would be as close it would get the remainder of the way as the shooting woes continued.

Haylie Wang led everyone with 16 points and had seven rebounds, two assists and two steals while her sister added 14 rebounds, 13 points and two assists. Macaraeg pitched in with eight points and six boards and So scored seven points.

“Not including the missed free throws, but the missed lay-ups as well,” said Jacobs of his frustrations. “And knowing that we have Cerritos here recording us, we just didn’t run our offense. So, we were basically running plays from a year and a half ago.

“Here’s the thing, I could care less about winning or losing this game,” he later said. “It’s all about the league because what matters [to us] is to win league. If I’m in league and I’m winning, that’s more important than this. When I sit here and I look at my team and I know what I have to focus on with the two days of practice we have, and it sets me up for what I need to do when Wednesday comes and how I need to make adjustments.”

Speaking of league, Whitney (15-6) will go to Cerritos High on Wednesday for the final game of the first round of league. Since the league has been around, the Wildcats own a 7-3 record against Cerritos and swept both games last season, one by 30 points and the other by a basket.

“We have to play more aggressively, and we have to get back to pushing up the tempo,” said Jacobs. “I thought we played at a slow pace today. I thought we looked more like a [junior varsity] team instead of a varsity team. I can assure you when Monday comes, practice is going to be hell.”

That game was followed by Cerritos never getting into a groove against Esperanza High, shooting 28 percent from the field in a 75-42 loss. It’s the worst loss of the season for the Dons, who have also lost three straight to the Aztecs in this tournament,

“It is kind of tough,” said Cerritos head coach Marcus Chinen. “Last night, we tried to run our stuff and go over things, which was kind of hard on that. Then coming into a game like this, they knew they had to step it up. I think we played two and a half quarters pretty well, then after that, it just went the other way. Hopefully, they’ll be ready to go on Wednesday because that’s going to be a huge came for us, too.”

Whereas missed free throws and lay-ups hurt Whitney in its game, it was ball handling that would be the demise of the Dons. Cerritos had eight turnovers in the opening quarter and were quickly down 20-12 after the first quarter. Senior Oneyka Nwanze scored nine points and had six rebounds in the opening quarter while sophomore Cameron Lacorte accounted for the other three points. 

“I don’t know if it’s their aggressiveness or what it was, but they were here and I guess it’s one of those things,” said Chinen. “It’s a holiday weekend…I don’t know. I have no answer to that at all.”

The Dons (12-9) tried to get back in the game and trailed by five points twice in the second quarter. But Esperanza connected on a barrage of three pointers-two each by Alexa Muller and Charlotte Muller in the quarter as the Aztecs held a 38-27 halftime advantage. Meanwhile, as the turnovers continued to mount (23 for the game), two other components of the game told the story and left Chinen puzzled.

For a team of 16 players, Chinen is expecting some production from its starters. However, seniors Mailee Dizon and Mia Rivera did not connect on a combined nine shots taken from the field. Although, Rivera had seven rebounds, four steals and two assists. It’s the first time this season Rivera did not score in a game she played in and the third time for Dizon. 

“That’s huge for us because we rely on them to score a little bit,” said Chinen. “In the past, our team is not one player scoring in double digits. It’s everybody pitching in, whether you score one point or whatever it is. As long as you pitch in, it shows up on the scoreboard.”

However, coming off the bench, junior Mia Scammahorn scored a career-high 12 points and was four of six on three-pointers. Junior Ambar Multani scored the other four bench points while Nwanze led the Dons with 20 points and a dozen rebounds.

“Our bench did well today,” said Chinen. “They stepped it up, especially Mia Scammahorn. She was big for us. This is something we need to work on in practices going forward for the remainder of the season as well as the playoffs.”

The winner of Wednesday’s game, obviously, will have a leg up on the other in the league. The rematch will be on Feb. 1 at Whitney and will be the last game of the regular season. Whitney is ranked in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2A polls while Cerritos is unranked in Division 3AA.

“We have to have two good practices and then we have to bring the intensity on Wednesday,” said Chinen. “Again, we just can’t play two and a half quarters. We have to play all four quarters.”