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Guards dominate with defense

PLAYA DEL REY — Simply put, the Bellarmine-Jefferson girls’ basketball team put together an all-around performance when squared off with Ventura High in the Beverly Hills Public vs. Private Shootout.

The Guards dominated the boards and controlled the paint on defense and got their jumpers to fall in a 62-39 victory at St. Bernard Saturday afternoon. Bell-Jeff Coach Jaclyn Johnson couldn’t ask for much more, as all eight players on her roster scored in the game.

“I am very happy,” said Johnson whose team out rebounded Ventura, 34-25. “I think we actually showed up to play Bell-Jeff basketball and we actually stuck to the game plan, which is a huge improvement for us.

“We are very powerful when we put all the pieces together.”

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Bell-Jeff (11-6) took an early lead by establishing itself down low. The Guards, ranked eighth in CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA, got out to an 18-11 edge at the end of the first quarter by scoring 16 points in the paint, 10 coming on easy putbacks.

“Our post players definitely set the tone offensively, they got offensive rebounds and layups,” said Bell-Jeff’s Rishonda Napier, who had a game-high 19 points, six rebounds and three steals. “They were hitting all their shots and that really allowed us to expand and work inside to the outside.”

The second quarter opened with a 7-3 run from Bell-Jeff, capped with a Napier three-pointer to give the Guards a 25-14 lead with 5:26 left in the half. Ventura (14-3) called a timeout and regrouped to cut the lead to 25-18, but Napier hit another three off a Cougars turnover to put her team back up, 30-18, with 1:30 to go.

Napier started out slow with just two points in the first quarter, but scored 14 of her 19 points in the second and third quarters.

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“I was missing to begin with, but my teammates kept encouraging me and kept telling me to keep my head up and keep shooting and eventually they started to fall,” she said.

Ventura, ranked third in Division II-AA, managed to cut the deficit back down to 32-24 with a 6-2 run that stretched into the third quarter. Bell-Jeff’s Jasmine Smith snapped the streak by grabbing an offensive rebound and laying it in while drawing contact. Smith, who finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, hit the free throw on the and-one opportunity to put the Guards up, 35-24.

Bell-Jeff locked down on defense with a 2-3 zone in the third quarter, giving up just six points in eight minutes. By the end of the game, Ventura had committed 22 turnovers, compared to Bell-Jeff’s 12.

“I think what really got us going was our defense,” Napier said. “We were all talking on defense, knew our rotations and played as one defensively and that’s what won us the game.”

Napier kept momentum with Bell-Jeff after Smith’s and-one score by sinking two straight jumpers to give her squad a 39-24 edge. On the Guards’ next trip down the floor Karina Moreno (eight points) hit a three and Napier followed it with another short jumper after grabbing her own rebound to increase the edge to 44-28.

Bell-Jeff closed the third quarter with a 6-0 run to take a 48-28 lead into the fourth quarter. Ventura never got closer than 17 points the rest of the way, as the Guards won handily, 62-39.

“Defensively, we were going to come out and play tough ball and really use our strength against them,” Johnson said. “We play very physical and that’s something a lot of teams don’t like. We try to play more physical, longer than them and play quicker — not faster, but quicker — and smarter.”


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