Costa Mesa High needed a good deal of the season to figure out what kind of team it was, and the Mustangs are "rolling," as coach Mike Ofer put it, just as the CIF Southern Section boys' basketball playoffs have arrived.
They showed it off in Wednesday night's Division 4AA opener. The Mustangs jumped to a big lead on visiting Westminster, absorbing a couple of the Lions' runs, then pulling away toward the end to an 82-61 triumph that ended a five-game losing streak in first-round action.
Costa Mesa's Osman Hefner scored 21 of his 27 points in the first half and Nico Dasca scored 20 of his 27 after halftime. Costa Mesa (14-10) got big performances from everyone on the court en route to a dominant win over the division's No. 12-ranked team.
"When we play like that, we're hard to beat," said Ofer, the Mustangs' first-year coach. "I give [Westminster] credit for battling back. We had to hold them off. But that quick start really put us out in front, and then we just had to kind of hold on a little bit.
"But that run there in the fourth quarter, it was just a great job by my guys. They played so hard, did everything we asked them to do. Just couldn't be a happier coach right now."
Costa Mesa advances to the second round and it will host Victorville Silverado (15-13), which beat Antelope Valley 52-48 on Wednesday.
George Williamson added 12 points for Costa Mesa, which burst to a 8-2 lead in the first couple of minutes. The Mustangs were ahead by 10 late in the first quarter and they pushed the advantage to 37-18 midway through the second period.
The Mustangs used an active matchup zone to thwart Westminster's outside game. They held the Lions (14-13) to just one three-point basket in 10 first-half attempts and 35% shooting for the game.
"Coach really emphasized we had to get out on shooters, and he drilled that into our minds," said Dasca, who ran Costa Mesa's offense, often against a full-court trap that caused problems but also left open teammates in the frontcourt. "To win the game, we had to make sure they didn't get that many threes open."
The frantic pace ought to have benefited Westminster, which prefers an up-tempo game. But Dasca's and Hefner's work with the ball, Williamson's play inside, and Ben Swanson's effort off the bench — he played with an ankle injury suffered last week, one that kept him out of Thursday's win at archrival Estancia — kept the Mustangs in charge.
"I think we're ready for any pace to play," Dasca said. "We're a smaller team, and I think playing a quicker pace would actually help us. Since they threw a lot of traps at us, it gave us an open guy, and we trust each other to make the right plays."
Anthony Nguyen scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Westminster. Isaiah Lee added 12 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 2:43 left.
The Lions used a 9-0 run late in the second half to pull within 10 points and a 9-3 spree in the third quarter to get within six, at 52-46. Costa Mesa led by 10 to 12 points most of the fourth quarter, but forced four turnovers as the Lions missed six straight shots after Lee departed en route to a 14-0 run for a 24-point edge in the final minute. Costa Mesa's Tre Villalpando scored two key baskets off steals during the final sprint.
"[Things went well] once we figured out as a team that when we all play together, we're really hard to beat," Ofer said. "Now that we're playing together, it's all coming together. Moving on playing Friday. We're going to see how deep we can go."
CIF Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs
Costa Mesa 82, Westminster 61
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Westminster 15 – 14 – 21 – 11 — 61
Costa Mesa 23 – 17 – 20 – 22 — 82
W – A. Nguyen 15, I. Lee 12, J. Lee 8, Phung 8, Aguilera 8, Mao 5, Melbon 5.
3-pt. goals – Phung 2, Aguilera 2, Melbon 1,
Fouled out – I. Lee.
Technicals – None.
CM – Hefner 27, Dasca 27, Williamson 12, Villalpando 9, Swanson 5, Garcialozo 2.
3-pt. goals – Hefner 4, Dasca 2, Swanson 1.
Fouled out – Swanson.
Technicals – None.