BELLARMINE-JEFFERSON HIGH — The Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls' basketball team opened the Division IV CIF State Basketball Championships without two of it starters.
Senior Kiah Jones had left the team and senior Jasmine Smith started Wednesday's game against Los Angeles Baptist on the bench suffering from an ankle injury she suffered Tuesday in practice.
Despite the missing personnel, the No. 5 Guards were able to notch a 70-60 victory at home in the Southern California Regional on the strength of a 26-point performance by Bell-Jeff senior Rishonda Napier.
Napier, along with Smith and fellow senior Averie Guzman, were members of the Bell-Jeff (24-8) team that won CIF Southern Section and state championships as freshmen in 2009. Napier said despite some recent distractions with the Guards, they are just trying to keep the season going.
"We have four seniors on this team and we are just trying to make a state run and we're trying to get out of here with a championship," said Napier, who had five three-pointers. "That's how we want to end our season."
Bell-Jeff Coach Jaclyn Johnson said the team didn't want to dwell on the departure of its starter, and chose instead to turn the attention to beating the No. 12 Knights.
"We have to leave what happened in the past," said Johnson, who is in her second season. "If we carry that into our future we're not going to be able to move forward.
"But with Jasmine on the bench to start the game we had some players who stepped up, as they should have."
Smith did enter the game in the second quarter and tallied 12 points to go along with five rebounds in limited minutes.
The Guards received a boost from the play of Guzman and junior Mariah Bankhead. While Guzman scored all of her 13 points in the first half, Bankhead grabbed nine rebounds and chipped in six points.
"With Jasmine out, the rest of us knew we had to step up," Guzman said. "It was kind of like we had her back and we had to get it done."
The win puts the Guards into the Southern California Regional quarterfinals Saturday. They will travel to No. 4 St. Bernard in a 7 p.m. game. St. Bernard (25-9) defeated No. 13 Lindsay of the Central Section, 103-39, in its opener Wednesday.
The Guards and Vikings played one another this season, with St. Bernard coming out on top, 71-58, on Feb 4.
"I think we match up well against Bernard," Johnson said. "It's going to be an exciting game. But I think our girls are going to go in there like we owe them a little bit."
The Guards took advantage of poor shooting by the Knights to open the game. L.A. Baptist converted just one of its first 11 field goals and Bell-Jeff built a quick double-digit lead. The Guards also took advantage of 10 Knights turnovers to end the first stanza with a 21-9 advantage.
It was more of the same for the Knights in the early stages of the second quarter, as they missed their first seven shots. By that time, Bell-Jeff enjoyed a 28-9 lead with 5:38 remaining.
Guzman and Napier tallied six points each in the second quarter and the Guards went into the break with a 21-point cushion, 44-23.
All of the Knights' 14 points in the second quarter came from senior Monet McNally. McNally ended the night with a game-high 33 points to go along with seven rebounds.
In the first half, the Knights converted just eight of 34 shots (23%) from the field.
Bell-Jeff kept up the pressure in the third quarter and headed into the fourth with a 28-point lead, 61-33.
When Guards junior Tiffany Kho drained a three-pointer in the opening moments of the fourth quarter, the Guards' lead swelled to 31.
In the fourth, the Knights were able to whittle down the lead when Johnson emptied her bench.
"I put my young kids in late for a reason," Johnson said. "I think if we're going to go all the way everyone's going to have to contribute. So they're going to have to get used to it."