IRVINE — They set the tone with team defense. They built their lead with balanced offense. They were fast, physical and focused.
Saturday night, the members of the Bellarmine-Jerferson High girls' basketball team dominated host Northwood, 72-29.
With the win, the Guards advanced to the quarterfinal round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3-A playoffs, where they will face the winner of Saturday's game between Monrovia and Antelope Valley on Wednesday.
Against Northwood (17-11), Bell-Jeff (21-6) jumped out to a 14-4 lead in the game's first five minutes.
Point guard Rishonda Napier and forward Johnece Miller each scored 16 points, leading the Guards.
"I think we just came out to play more than they probably did," Miller said. "Total team effort, we all passed the ball, worked it around, played as a team."
The Timberwolves were held without a field goal for the entire first quarter. The Guards pressured the ball with man-to-man defense and finished with 14 steals in the game.
"I'm a big believer that defense wins games," first-year Bell-Jeff Coach Jaclyn Johnson said.
Added Napier: "We were all just playing with a lot of heart. We were playing intense and enthusiastic defense. It shut their offense down."
Northwood went on an 8-0 run in the second quarter, but still trailed, 26-12. Bell-Jeff led, 40-16, at halftime.
Johnson's halftime message to her team was simple.
"She just reminded us that these early-round playoff games are building up momentum," Napier said. "She told us to stay intense and stay in tune to the game so when a tougher team comes, then we'll be ready."
It worked. The Guards outscored the Timberwolves, 32-13, in the second half.
"I'm not trying to be disrespectful in any way," Johnson said. "We're just getting ready for going to the next round and making sure that we are prepared."
Bell-Jeff will look to improve on last season's playoff run to the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division IVA playoffs. The Guard's will play their semifinal game on Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the winner of the Antelope Valley-Monrovia game.