BELLARMINE-JEFFERSON HIGH — The Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls' basketball team played with an energy and excitement Thursday night that permeated throughout its home gym.
The Guards started strong, never let up and rolled to a 70-40 victory over Louisville in a CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA first-round matchup.
Bell-Jeff (21-7), the No. 6 seed, will move on to the second round of the playoffs. The Guards will take on No. 11 Pasadena Poly at 7 p.m. Saturday at a site to be determined. The Panthers (22-4) defeated El Segundo, 72-33, in an opening-round game Thursday.
But until then, the Guards will enjoy their victory.
"We had to come out and take this game very seriously," said Guards Coach Jaclyn Johnson, who acknowledged that every playoff game is tough. "Louisville is a solid team, and we have to take this thing step by step. Win or go home."
Johnson sited her team's enthusiasm as a one of the biggest positives as they advance to face more formidable opponents. She particularly focused on the unselfish play from her athletes.
"Everybody enjoyed each other," said Johnson. "When they weren't in the game, they were cheering their teammates on."
"It wasn't about 'me,' it was about 'we', and that's the mindset that is going to take us all the way."
The Guards' offensive attack was led by McDonald's All-American candidate Rishonda Napier, who connected on seven three-pointers. The senior scored a game-high 25 points.
"It was a good night," Napier said. "My shots were falling, my teammates were hitting their shots, the crowd was awesome and we just came out and played Bell-Jeff basketball."
Johnson also took notice of her star player's hot shooting.
"[Napier's] been scorching from the three-point line for the past couple weeks now," Johnson said. "She's peaking at the right time, so that's really good."
Superb ball movement was one of the keys to a strong offensive night for the Guards. The team combined for 20 assists. Still, that's one area where Johnson feels her team could use some improvement.
"We need to execute a little bit better; make crisper passes," Johnson said. "But overall I'm satisfied with it because our effort was there."
Senior Jasmine Smith also had a fine all-around game for the Guards, scoring nine points and grabbing eight rebounds.
The only player on the Royals who could muster any kind of offense was junior Nicole Ashton, who had a solid scoring night with 20 points to lead her team.