Defense is key for La Cañada girls’ basketball

LA CAÑADA — One of the best defensive efforts of the season propelled the La Cañada High girls’ basketball team to an easy 60-33 victory over visiting Redlands East Valley in first-round action of the CIF Southern Section Division I-A playoffs on Thursday evening.

With the win, the No. 7-ranked Spartans (23-5) earned advancement to Saturday’s second round of the playoffs at No. 10 Riverside J.W. North (19-6) at 5 p.m.

There was some trepidation for La Cañada and its head coach Sarah Beattie after the squad was moved up from III-A, where it advanced to the championship last season, to Division I-A this season. Yet, any worry did not seem to affect La Cañada’s play.

“I mean there’s definitely a little apprehension because this is all unknown, but we have a really great coaching staff and we all worked really hard to try and prepare the kids,” said Beattie, whose postseason record improved to 7-2 in two seasons. “They brought into what we were trying to do.”

Redlands East Valley (17-10), which finished third in the Citrus Belt League, was held to single-digit scoring in the second and third quarters with the Spartans pulling away in the third.

“I think we did well because we had a lot of practice for this game and coach told us that we had to out-work them,” said La Cañada senior Zoe Williams, who was stellar again with 19 points and 17 rebounds. “That’s what we did.”

La Cañada led, 30-14, at halftime and won the third quarter, 16-7, to lead by 25 heading into the fourth.

The Wildcats’ first two points of the third came via the free-throw line, while Redlands East Valley didn’t convert a field goal until a three-pointer from Christen Ziska with 2:49 left in the quarter brought the Wildcats within 37-19.

La Cañada responded with short-range baskets from Tess Oakley-Stilson and Emma Stroben to push the lead to 41-19 with 1:45 left in the third.

Overall, the Spartans responded to Ziska’s three-pointer with a quarter-closing 7-2 spurt capped by a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Stephanie Musso as La Cañada led, 46-21, after three.

Redlands East Valley never pulled closer than 20 points the rest of the way.

La Cañada’s best defensive quarter was the second, where the Spartans out-scored the Wildcats, 12-4, to take a 30-14 advantage into the break.

The Spartans led, 18-10, after one quarter and immediately opened with a three-pointer from Alexi Nazarian to go up, 21-10.

While Redlands East Valley countered with an inside bucket from Daniela Popa, again the Spartans responded quickly with a 7-0 run that culminated on a three-pointer from Kristina Kurdoghlian set up on an assist from Nazarian.

La Cañada led, 30-14, at the half.

The Spartans had 10 players chip in at least a point with Nazarian adding nine points and seven rebounds, Brooke Yasuda contributing seven points and Stroben turning in a strong effort off the bench with seven points and six rebounds.

“We knew that this isn’t D-III anymore, this is D-I,” Nazarian said. “We mentally prepared ourselves for harder teams and I think that got us ready today.”

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