Peninsula Girls Are Seeking a Perfect Ending : Basketball: At 24-0, Lady Panthers are favored to win state and national titles. They open Division I-AA playoffs Saturday against Long Beach Wilson.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Following a non-competitive Bay League season, the Peninsula High girls' basketball team will take another step toward possible state and national titles Saturday night with the start of the Southern Section playoffs.

The Lady Panthers (24-0), ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today, meet Long Beach Wilson at 7:30 at Peninsula in a Division I-AA opener. Wilson, an at-large entry from the Moore League, advanced with a 52-22 qualifying-round victory over Nogales of La Puente on Wednesday night.

"We're just waiting to play; it's kind of a long time to go without a game," said Peninsula Coach Wendell Yoshida, whose team completed the regular season Friday with an 83-9 Bay League victory over Leuzinger.

In preparation for the playoffs, Yoshida said the Lady Panthers scrimmaged against the Peninsula boys' team this week.

"It gets kind of boring and old pounding on each other every day," he said. "But it's given us time to work on things and prepare. We're anxious and ready."

Peninsula's 8-0 run through the Bay League was anything but challenging. The Lady Panthers won their league games by an average score of 80-24, with one opponent, Santa Monica, forfeiting a game.

"Supposedly their coaches couldn't get out of their homes in the (San Fernando) Valley because of the rain," Yoshida said. "We tried to reschedule the game for the next night, but they said they'd take a forfeit."

In their league finale against Leuzinger, the Lady Panthers started their second team.

"We could have beaten teams by 120 and set all kinds of scoring records, but I wouldn't do that," Yoshida said.

Because the league season was a cakewalk, Yoshida and his players are looking forward to the challenge of postseason play. With nine more victories--five in the Southern Section playoffs, three in the regionals and one in the state final--Peninsula will complete a 33-0 season and virtually assure itself of winning the mythical national title.

But Yoshida said it won't be easy. He pointed to the competition in the Division I-AA playoffs, where second-seeded Lynwood (20-1), third-seeded Capistrano Valley (24-1) and fourth-seeded Chino (22-4) are ranked among the top eight Division I teams in the state by Cal-Hi Sports newsletter.

Peninsula defeated Chino, 66-36, in the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions in December.

"I've seen Capistrano Valley and they're tough," Yoshida said. "They're not real big. They rely on transition and pressure defense."

Lynwood, whose only loss was to Thousand Oaks--the No. 2-ranked team in the state behind Peninsula--is led by 6-foot-4 center Janet Davis, The Times' South Bay Player of the Year at Morningside last season.

"Lynwood is very tough with Janet," Yoshida said. "And Millikan is good too. It's not going to be easy. It's not going to be like our average."

Peninsula has beaten its opponents by an average score of 70-35. The Lady Panthers' balanced lineup includes four players averaging double figures in points--6-5 center Jeffra Gausepohl (14.9), sophomore forward Mimi McKinney (12.9) and guards Raquel Alotis (11.5) and Kristen Mulligan (10.5).

Mulligan, last season's Division III player of the year at Palos Verdes, missed four league games with a back injury and is playing with a brace.

"I don't know if she'll be 100% until we stop playing," Yoshida said of the Auburn-bound point guard.

Alotis, one of the co-captains with 6-3 forward Monique Morehouse, has helped pick up the slack in the backcourt. The senior, who signed with UC Santa Barbara, is averaging three assists, three steals and leads the Lady Panthers in three-point shots (32 of 87 for 37%).

Gausepohl and Morehouse anchor a strong inside game for Peninsula, averaging 7.3 and 7.2 rebounds, respectively. Gausepohl also leads the team in blocked shots, averaging two a game.

Off the bench, the Lady Panthers have received consistent play from junior guard Jill Kennedy, who is averaging 6.7 points and ranks second on the team in three-point shots (27 of 73 for 37%).

Following is a list of other first-round games involving South Bay teams, all at 7:30 p.m. Saturday:

Division I-A--Inglewood at Don Lugo.

II-A--Redondo at West Torrance, Mira Costa at Alemany, Bishop Montgomery at Santa Fe, Troy at North Torrance.

III-AA--Lompoc at South Torrance, Newbury Park at Morningside.

III-A--Cabrillo at St. Bernard.

V-AA--Trona at South Bay Lutheran, Avalon at Mary Star.

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