Bell-Jeff girls' basketball can't string together small run for victory

PANORAMA CITY — Despite a series of small spurts, the Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls’ basketball team could never fully climb out of a large deficit it accrued versus Los Angeles City Section power Fairfax in Saturday afternoon’s nonleague showcase at St. Genevieve High.

Every time the Guards pulled within striking range, the Lions fought back and reestablished control all the way until the final seconds of a 58-48 victory.

The defeat was the second this week and third in five games for the Guards (10-7), who head back into Santa Cruz League action Wednesday against the showcase host.

“Not having a bench hurt us fatigue wise,” said Guards first-year Coach Stan Delus, who only had seven girls dressed due to injury. “We make some nice little runs, but then we’d have some mental lapses because we’d be fatigued. We also didn’t match up that well either.”

Down 29-17 at the half, the Guards made the most inroads versus the Lions (16-5) in the third quarter.

After both teams traded buckets to open the third, the Guards trimmed their deficit to single digits behind a slashing layup from junior guard Karina Moreno, who finished with a game-high 18 points and four steals, and then a three-pointer from Moreno with 6:01 left that was set up by a steal and assist from sophomore guard Mackenzie Dowling.

While Moreno’s triple brought the score to 31-24, Fairfax tallied the next five points to retake a 12-point advantage 59 seconds later.

The Guards were unable to make any additional headway until a three-pointer from Tiffany Kho, who was assisted by Anastasia Tsybaeva, brought Bell-Jeff to within 40-34 with 1:57 remaining.

“We talked at halftime that we needed to play stronger and make a run,” Moreno said. “We did that to start the third, but didn’t keep it going.”

Bell-Jeff’s best chance at threatening was answered by force from Fairfax, which closed the quarter with a 6-2 run capped by a running jumper from Philomena Smorynski with one second left that put the Lions back up 10, 46-36.

The Lions’ 6-2 quarter-closing spurt was followed by the first six points of the fourth quarter as a layup from senior center John’ea Thompson (17 points, three steals and two blocks) with 4:12 remaining in the game gave Fairfax its biggest lead, 52-36.

Part of Fairfax’s success came to Lions’ defensive emphasis in the second half, which was to double- and triple-team Guards’ center Mariah Bankhead.

The 6-foot-2 Bankhead totaled nine points in the first half, but was held to four points in the second half in finishing with nine rebounds and two blocks.

“Fairfax did a great job of taking away the middle from us,” Delus said. “That made us go elsewhere for scoring.”

After falling behind 6-0 in the opening quarter, the Guards battled back to 12-7 after an offensive put back from Moreno with 1:11 left in the quarter.

Again, though, Bell-Jeff did not close the quarter strong, allowing Fairfax to score six of the period’s final 10 points.

It appeared Fairfax was going to run away with the game after a jumper from Illianna Blanc (14 points) with seven seconds left put the Lions up 15.

However, Kho took her team’s inbounds pass the length of the court and was inexplicably fouled by Thompson on a desperation three with .3 seconds remaining.

Kho, who finished with 14 points, six rebounds and four assists, drained all three free throws to bring the Guards within 12 at the break.

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