Providence girls' basketball opens own tourney with lopsided win

BURBANK — The Providence High girls' basketball players are not shy about shooting the ball — and shooting often.

Even if the Pioneers miss a rash of shots, Coach Andrew Bencze encourages them to keep plugging away, figuring those shots are eventually going to fall.

That was the case Monday in a pool-play game of the 17th annual Providence Pioneer Shoot-Out. Although the Pioneers didn't shoot particularly well early on, they kept at it. And with its defense setting the tone, Providence could afford to miss a shot here or there.

Providence used that defense to coast to a 58-17 victory in its season home opener.

The Pioneers (1-1) will continue pool play at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday against Mayfield.

Although Bencze said he does encourage liberal shooting from his players, he admitted his team could have shot better Monday.

"There were some easy shots that we did miss," Bencze said. "We did get some really good looks today, and when they have good looks we want them to shoot. You're not going to always make your first shot all the time, so the more shots you have, hopefully the more possessions you're going to have and the more successful you're gonna be."

Providence missed its first four shots from the floor to open the game and converted just eight of 24 shots from the field in the first quarter. However, it didn't seem to matter, as the Pioneers defense held Heritage Christian (1-4) in check in the first quarter.

The Warriors, who had several key players sidelined with injuries, had more turnovers (11) than shots (seven) in the opening stanza. Every time a Heritage Christian player touched the ball, a Providence player, or group of players, was there to hound the ballhandler.

The Pioneers forced 38 turnovers in the game.

"Defense is the most important thing for us," said Providence junior Katia Dabbaghian, a two-time All-CIF Southern Section honoree. "We focus mainly on defense and we know that playing good defense is what is going to lead us."

Dabbaghian led her team on both ends of the floor. She tallied all 14 of her points in the first half and also had nine rebounds and five steals. Teammates Fabi Jimenez and Olive Menke added 10 points each.

With the game in hand early, Bencze went to his bench often, giving all the Pioneers a chance to compete. The game also had a running clock in the fourth quarter.

Despite its early shooting struggles, the Pioneers held a 19-4 advantage after one quarter. Dabbaghian paced the effort, pouring in 10 of her team's points in the opening stanza.

It was Menke's time to shine in the second quarter, as she came off the bench to score eight points. Providence limited the Warriors to just seven shots and five points in the second stanza.

With things well in hand, the Pioneers went into the half with a 35-9 lead.

"Today's game was good in a sense that we were able to go to our bench in the second half," Bencze said. "We have some girls off the bench with the very same skill set as our starters. When they do come off the bench we encourage them to try and play at the same level as the starters. I think our offense did a good job at that today."

Providence eased off on its pressure defense in the second half, but by then the offense had begun to click. Heritage Christian was able to convert just one of four shots from the field in the third quarter, and as a result, the Pioneers outscored the Warriors, 17-3, with their only points coming on a buzzer-beating three-pointer.

With a 52-12 lead after three quarters, the Pioneers were able to coast in the fourth.

"Our goal is to be a much better team at the end of this tournament than we were at the beginning," Bencze said. "We still have some things we have to work on, but we are going in the right direction."

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