Defense leads way for Providence girls' basketball

BURBANK — Using a suffocating defense against an offense that was already struggling was more than enough for the Providence High girls' basketball team in its CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA opener.

Fueled by their full-court press, the second-seeded Pioneers tallied 34 steals and cruised to a 48-20 victory over visiting Downey Calvary Chapel Thursday night at Providence.

The four-time Liberty League champions will have to travel for their second-round game and will face the winner of Sherman Indian and 15th seeded Linfield Christian on Saturday.

“We knew they would have trouble scoring against us,” Pioneers Coach Andrew Bencze said after the convincing win over the Grizzlies from the Delphic League. “The full-court press was a safety net. Defensively, we wanted to hold them until our offense came around.”

Providence (18-9) struggled from the field, particularly in the second quarter where the Pioneers made just three of 20 attempts. Eventually, though, they were able to get a rhythm on offense and finished the game making 20 of 68 field-goal attempts.

Their highest output came in a fourth quarter when the Pioneers made eight of 17 shots, and perhaps that efficiency will carry over into Saturday’s second-round contest.

“We have a pretty deep team, so we’re always rotating,” said Bencze, whose squad has won seven of their last eight games dating back to the regular season. “Late in the game, we figured it out and found a group that worked well together.”

Kristie Kawamoto led the team with 16 points, six steals and five rebounds. The junior was the lone Pioneer to shoot better than 50% from the field and scored seven of the team’s eight second-quarter points.

It was the relentless defense, however, that limited the Grizzles to just two points in the first quarter, 10 points in the first half and maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second half.

Estelle Glorioso’s eight steals followed by Katia Dabbaghian’s seven led an overwhelming defensive attack against the inferior Grizzlies.

Bencze, who feels his team had a good opportunity to make a deep run in the playoffs and even perhaps win the CIF championship, knows his team will have to improve on both ends as the competition gets tougher.

“Our defense needs to be just as good, if not better,” Bencze said. “Offensively, we just need to be focused on making good shots. We missed shots that we should make.”

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