BURBANK — For the first time since the 2008-2009 season, the Providence High and Bellarmine-Jefferson girls’ basketball teams met on the hardwood in a nonleague game Saturday at Providence High.
In their previous meeting, the Guards defeated the Pioneers by 60 points during a time the program was winning Santa Cruz League titles and making deep playoff runs.
Fast forward four years to Bell-Jeff currently rebuilding in a transition period and it was evident against a formidable Providence team that faced little resistance from the Guards in a 65-23 victory in the tilt between the two Burbank-area squads.
While Bell-Jeff has seen four head coaches in that span, Andrew Bencze was at the helm the last time the teams met on Dec. 13, 2009 and was pleased to get a win in the temporarily renewed rivalry.
“Bell-Jeff is in a rebuilding year and they need all the experience they can get and we’re at the place now where we’re playing good basketball,” said Bencze, who received a stellar all-around performance from junior guard Katia Dabbaghian. “We did some good things. It’s a rivalry between fellow Catholic schools, so it’s always nice to beat them.”
Eddie Miller is in his first year as head coach of the Guards after Stan Delus coached the team last season, with the bar raised high from Jaclyn Johnson’s tenure. She took the reins from Bryan Camacho in the 2010-2011 campaign.
Miller realizes it’s going to take some time before Bell-Jeff girls’ basketball is back to its winning ways.
“I’d like to see more consistent team play,” Miller said. “We have volleyball and softball players out of their element right now. It’s about getting them comfortable with a basketball IQ and it’s the little things like playing hard and staying in front of a player on defense.
“If we can accomplish that, then everything else will take care of itself.”
The Guards struggled in all facets in their matchup with Providence, most telling in a second half in which they made one field goal and trailed by as many as 43 points. Mackenzie Dowling was the lone Guard to score in double figures with 12 points.
Dabbaghian led the Pioneers with a team-high 18 points on 16 field-goal attempts. She showed great energy on both ends of the floor and came close to registering a quadruple-double with 10 assists, eight rebounds, eight steals and three blocks.
Dabbaghian scored nine points in a second quarter that saw the Pioneers taking control of the game and overwhelming the Guards to take a 21-point lead at the half.
The game saw tie scores in the first quarter, but a 7-0 stretch midway through the second quarter highlighted the Pioneers imposing their will and eventually cruising to the win.
“We work hard and put effort in everything we do,” Dabbaghian said. “It’s not just about offense. We focus on defense.”
Bencze gave high praise for his point guard.
“She’s talented and is getting more and more confident,” he said of Dabbaghian. “You can see it by the way she plays out there. She’s the engine that makes us go.”
“I wasn’t really sure about myself early this season and I didn’t trust my shooting,” Dabbaghian said. “As the games went on, I started making my shots and I became more confident.”
Fabi Jimenez and Kristie Kawamoto each scored 12 points for a Providence team that will next play in the Tri-City Christian Holiday Basketball Tournament in San Diego beginning on Dec. 26. Kawamoto added seven rebounds.
Bell-Jeff will travel a short distance to Burroughs High on December 26, as it resumes play in the West Coast Holiday Festival and looks to right the ship.
“Rome wasn’t built in one day,” Miller said. “I believe strongly we can get back up to the top. Will it be this season? I don’t know, but I do know we will play just as hard as any previous Bell-Jeff team has played.”