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CIF-SS DIV. 5AA GIRLS BASKETBALL SEMIFINALS-La Mirada squanders first half double-digit lead, buzzed by Colton on late basket

February 19, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

COLTON-La Mirada High girls basketball head coach Victoria Luong has seen this happen far too many times, but on the biggest stage in the history of the program, this was not the time for it to happen. Her Matadores had somewhat dominated Colton High the first half of last Saturday night’s CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA semifinal game, then went into a slump on both ends of the court in the third quarter only to lose in the final seconds of the game.

La Mirada, which had never advanced this far, was roughly a quarter and a half from advancing to the championship game for the first time in school history. But the Yellow Jackets outscored the third-ranked team in the division 26-16 in the second half and edged the Matadores 43-42. La Mirada (21-6) now waits to see if it gets a berth in the CIF-State Southern California Regionals. Those brackets will be released on Sunday.

“We usually struggle in the third [quarter],” said Luong. “We just came out and didn’t play strong defense. They scored 14 points; we scored three and just weren’t getting back [on defense]. It was one layup after another and the girls again…it’s a mental game. It got to them mentally and they’re still struggling in learning how to pick up their heads and turning around and playing better ball. Had we played better ball in that third quarter, things would have been completely different.”

La Mirada scored the first four points of the game before the Yellow Jackets, ranked seventh in the division, tied things up. After that, the Matadores went on an 8-2 run over the final 3:54 of the first quarter. The momentum continued into the second quarter as second place team out of the Mid-Cities League opened a 12-point lead following a basket from junior Nayeli Tamayo with 1:45 left in the half. Colton would trim that to a nine-point contest by halftime, then went to work in the third quarter.

Consecutive baskets from Naomi Ontiveros forced Luong to call a timeout a little over a minute into the second half. Over half a minute later, Ontiveros drained a three-pointer and Colton continued its pressure. It took its first lead of the game with 3:50 remaining in the stanza and it wasn’t until a minute later when junior Jael Arreguin scored off a steal for the lone basket in the quarter. The Matadores missed the first 13 shots they took and were one of 18 in that time.

Arreguin began the fourth quarter scoring off one of her five offensive rebounds and senior Jirah Domingo connecting on a free throw to give La Mirada a 32-31 advantage. The lead would change hands five more times in the game.

Savannah Govea’s basket with 1:46 gave the Yellow Jackets a 41-37 lead with 2:21 left to play before freshman Katelyn Casillo went one of three from the charity stripe and Domingo had a steal and assisted on an Arreguin bucket with 55.8 ticks left. After a Colton timeout, Domingo was fouled and sank her two free throws to put the Matadores back in front with 45.9 seconds left.

They had a chance to ice the game when Arreguin forced Govea to foul her, and subsequently foul out of the contest with 24 seconds left. But she missed both free throws and with 15.7 seconds left to play, Olivia Torres scored the game-winner.

“We watched film on Colton, obviously, and we watched their round two game against Desert Hot Springs,” said Luong. “We knew they were a better team compared to the other schools we had played. We knew it would be competitive. We knew what to watch out for and we rehearsed everything that we needed to. We just didn’t execute in the third quarter.”

Arreguin led the Matadores with 16 points, 11 rebounds and three steals while Domingo pitched in with 15 points, 11 steals and eight rebounds. Tamayo and junior Emily Gonzalez each had eight boards but the one thing that will haunt La Mirada, especially in a one-point loss, is the shooting. The Matadores were 12 of 71 from the field and 18 of 31 from the free throw line. To make matters worse, the Yellow Jackets were two of 13 from the line.

“I think we missed eight free throws in the fourth quarter,” said Luong. “So, that in itself…one of those free throws or two or those free throws is a game changer.

“They were guarding Jirah 100 percent, and we knew that because on film, they guarded their opponent’s number one player 100 percent of the time,” she later added. “We just couldn’t get Jirah open. Jael stepped up and did what she could. But what I told the girls after the game was it’s a five-man team. We need five players out there to make a difference and we only had a handful of points from our bigs, and that was detrimental.”