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GIRLS BASKETBALL – Cerritos comes out flat against Laguna Beach but has enough for non-league victory

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January 29, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

LAGUNA BEACH-It was not the beginning that Cerritos High head coach Marcus Chinen was looking for when his team made its way to South Orange County to face Laguna Beach High. It also was not the type of game he was expecting from his team, which was facing an opponent with seven wins on the season and was riding a six-game losing streak and losers of 10 out of the last 11 games.

Cerritos scored eight points in the opening quarter, 20 by halftime and was held scoreless in the final 3:30 of the game, but still defeated the Breakers 49-34 in a matinee affair last Saturday. The Dons improved to 17-9 with the final week of the regular season upon us.

“It’s hard when you’re coming from a big game from last night; it takes a lot out of the girls,” said Chinen. “And then coming into a game the next day…they were a little flat; they had to travel kind of far. That’s one of the things that we’re not worried about as far as a coaching staff, but just figuring out if we get off to a slow start, how are we going to bounce back and rebound from that?”

Cerritos was roughly 17 and a half hours removed from a 48-35 victory over Pioneer High last Friday night, keeping its dream of an undefeated 605 League season alive. Senior Oneyka Nwanze scored the first four points of the game and sophomore Cameron Lacorte added another in the first 90 seconds. After that, the Dons went 5:38 without a point, missing 12 shots from the field.

But the streaky Dons bounced back, going on a 9-0 run in a span of 1:40 to build an 18-7 lead before connecting on one field goal over the final 5:07 of the half. Nwanze had 12 points and all 11 of her rebounds and three steals in the first half while junior Miya Scammahorn, the three-point specialist off the bench, added another one as the visitors led 20-13 at the break.

Only four players scored in the first half but more players got involved in the second half as Chinen was tinkering with different matchups amongst the 14 players who saw action. Junior Ambar Multani scored a pair of third quarter baskets, had a block, a rebound and a steal while freshman Kalana Nguyen scored five points in the stanza and picked up three steals.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the playoffs,” said Chinen. “You have foul trouble or maybe someone gets sick or injured. You have to see who can fill that spot; you know, next man up [mentality]. That’s what we’re trying to do with these games like this. That’s why we have a couple of single games in here where we can tweak our little lineups and see what we have moving forward.”

Lacorte scored off a steal with 10 seconds left in the third quarter, then Cerritos scored the first 14 points of the final stanza as it opened a 49-20 advantage. Despite allowing the last 14 points of the contest, the defense swarmed the Breakers throughout the entire contest to the tune of 22 turnovers. Nguyen ended up with five steals, senior Mailee Dizon with four steals and Nwanze and junior Sophie Watanabe with three steals each.

“That’s one thing that we’re nitpicking on during practices and even in our games,” said Chinen. “It’s defense that is going to get us going; that our defense is going to be our offense. Any type of deflection, any type of steal is going to be a positive for us. Even when those deflections when the ball goes out of bounds, it kind of gives us a little breather to catch our breath; kind of calm down if we’re out of control. But our defense is going to have to take us through the playoffs.”

Nwanze scored three more points in the fourth quarter to finish with 15 while Scammahorn sank a pair of three-pointers in the fourth quarter and Nguyen one more to finish with eight points. If Cerritos has one strength heading into the CIF-Southern Section playoffs, it’s the depth. Eight players scored against the Breakers and at least 10 players recorded a point in eight games. Of the 16 players on the team, five are seniors, thus giving the future of the program a lot of experience.

“They’re younger and we have some young ones coming up,” said Chinen. “And I think we have a few who are at the lower levels that could possibly come up and with a good spring, summer and fall, we can see what they can do and hopefully help us out in the future.”

Cerritos will host last place John Glenn High on Tuesday before going to Whitney High on Thursday, hoping to sweep the Wildcats and win the league outright. But first, the Dons can’t overlook a Glenn squad that has scored 12 points or fewer in six straight league contests.

“Those games could be trap games, but we have to play hard no matter who our opponent is the next game,” said Chinen. “The girls are looking forward for their senior night, and then after that, it’s almost like we have to tune ourselves and refocus on Wednesday; have a really good practice going into the final game.”

Barring a colossal upset by Glenn, Chinen said it’s going to take everything to defeat Whitney on its senior night with the league title on the line.

“It goes from the energy from the bench; the energy on the court, limiting our turnovers,” he said. “We’re going to have to rebound hard and our defense is going to have to be on par. We have to play scrappy defense in order to be competitive and take that victory from them. They’re going to come at us and they’re a very, very good team; a well-coached team and we’ll have to see on Thursday what happens.”