SOUTH PASADENA — Determined to learn from its mistakes, the La Canada High girls' basketball team reminded itself of them coming into Thursday's Rio Hondo League showdown at South Pasadena High.
The Spartans did that by watching their painful 25-point loss to the Tigers on Jan. 23 before Thursday’s night game, which would decide the league champion.
“The girls said they were just fired up last night and knew what they had to do,” said La Cañada Coach Tamar Hill, whose team held off the home team for a 43-34 victory to win the league title. “I told them before the game the pressure's really on [the Tigers]. They won last time and we can just waltz into their gym and do what we do.”
South Pasadena started slow but came on late and cut into what was a 29-17 deficit early in the third quarter with a 13-4 run that stretched from the third into the fourth quarter.
Clinging to a 33-30 advantage with 2:28 to play, Hill called a timeout and drew up a pick-and-roll for La Cañada’s Courtney Chen, leaving her with a choice between a shot or a pass. Chen came off a pick from Lauren Barsamian, up-faked a three-pointer that drew the attention of three South Pas defenders and hit a rolling Barsamian with a pass for the basket.
“The key was Courtney made a good decision there, she made a great decision,” said Hill of her point guard, who finished with 19 points and five rebounds. “Earlier, she was just trying to force it a little bit too much. We told her to calm down and let the play develop and she did. That's why she's the player that she is, she makes adjustments on the fly.”
It gave the Spartans (18-8, 9-1 in league) a 5-0 lead and they never looked back on the way to the win and league title.
“I was ready for it, I knew I had to put it in with all the screaming — last quarter, last minutes of the game,” said Barsamian, who finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. “I’ve been playing in this gym for so long, I wanted to leave here feeling good.”
Following Barsamian’s bucket, South Pasadena shot a trio of three-point attempts on its next two possessions. All three were off the mark with the last being rebounded by La Cañada’s Aundrea Issakhanian, who was quickly fouled.
Issakhanian made the first of her one-and-one chance at the line. The Tigers (20-5, 8-2) missed their next three shots from there and La Cañada cleaned the glass on them all, which allowed the Spartans to seal the win with some free throws.
“We tried but the shots just weren't falling, what else can I say? I don't know what it was, I am sure [their defense] contributed to some of it, but when we can't shoot on our court it makes it a little difficult,” South Pasadena Coach Tammy Lai said.
The victory locked up the Spartans’ first league title since 2010 and avenged an embarrassing 52-27 loss they suffered to the Tigers on their home court on Jan. 23.
The Tigers trailed by as many as 12, 29-17, with 6:21 to play in the third quarter, but they rallied back and closed the frame on a 5-0 run with Sophia Hathaway (12 points, 13 rebounds) scoring four of those points.
Defense was key in both games between South Pasadena and La Cañada. The Tigers blanked the Spartans in the second quarter of their victory, while La Cañada forced nine turnovers en route to building a 14-10 lead Thursday.
Another key difference was the balance La Cañada displayed Thursday after Chen scored 23 of its 27 points in its first bout with South Pasadena.
“They were much more difficult to cover tonight, La Cañada came out ready to play,” Lai said.
Outside of Barsamian’s double-double, the Spartans also received 10 points and six boards from Issakhanian, who had six of her points in the second quarter, and eight boards from Marie Weston.
“I think we came out with fire, we really wanted to win this. We wanted vengeance for the last game,” Issakhanian said. “We knew they were going to come after Courtney, so we took it upon ourselves to step up.”
No Tiger, other than Hathaway, hit double-digit scoring, as Lexie Scholtz (six rebounds) and Amber Partida (four steals) each scored eight points.
Both South Pasadena and La Cañada, which are respectively ranked fourth and fifth in CIF Southern Section Division III-A, will await the release of the playoff brackets at 1 p.m. Sunday to learn what awaits in the postseason.
“We have to move on,” Lai said. “We get our seedings on Sunday and then we start preparing for our next game.”