LA CAÑADA — Attacking and defending the paint against towering post players looked like it would be a tough task, but the Flintridge Prep girls’ basketball team had a game plan to combat the disadvantage.
Against Chino Hills in a CIF Southern Section Division II-A quarterfinal contest Wednesday, host Flintridge Prep faced a pair of 6-foot forwards and a 5-foot-11 guard who occupied enough space and make it tough to go up against.
In the end, however, Flintridge Prep made sure to never let up on its high-intensity defense and used Chino Hills’ size to its advantage to earn a 56-42 victory and secure a spot in the semifinals for the second straight season.
“We were trying to put a little pressure on the guards so that it was a little bit more difficult to post center,” Flintridge Prep co-coach Kevin Kiyomura said. “Then we were just trying to take away one side or the other just to make it even more difficult for them to maneuver. The girls stuck to the game plan, so I’m very proud of them.”
The Rebels (24-2; Prep League champion) will travel to Lake Elsinore to face No. 1 Lakeside in a semifinal contest at 7 p.m. Friday.
Backed by key defensive efforts from junior Kaitlyn Chen, the reigning All-Area Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year, and clutch shooting from freshman Ashlyn Zhang in the middle quarters, the Rebels fended off a rallying Huskies squad that pulled to within 29-24 at the half, then by two late in the third.
Rebels sophomore Sofia Gonzalez led the hosts with 16 points, Zhang added 15 and Chen posted 11 points to go along with six assists, five blocks and four steals.
“We knew we were out-sized, but we put more hustle and heart in,” Zhang said. “We knew we had to box out and I think getting those stops really helped us climb back and get the lead.”
Despite their opponent’s length, the Rebels were able to outrebound the Huskies, 11-2, on the offensive end, and a fine effort from junior forward Alex Kyriakakis in the first quarter helped the Rebels to an 11-6 lead at the end of the frame.
Kyriakakis, a junior, finished with 12 rebounds, seven off the offensive boards.
“Their guards put a lot of pressure on us out front,” Chino Hills coach Stan Steward said. “The biggest thing was their press was not to steal passes. Their press was to slow [us] down and to limit in the front court, so I was trying to get the girls to get the ball up faster so we can get into our offense.
“We were averaging 12 or 14 seconds to get into our offense, which was not good.”
The second-chance efforts were key in a quarter that saw the Rebels shoot two of 12 midway into the period, with a scoring drought that lasted more than two minutes.
The offense started clicking for both teams in the second quarter, but the Huskies (20-9; Baseline League runner-up) outscored the Rebels, 8-2, down the final stretch of the half to cut the lead to five points.
The Rebels climbed to a 36-26 lead to start the second half, but the Huskies forced a handful of turnovers and outscored the hosts, 9-1, to make it, 37-35, with 2:45 left in the third.
Regardless, the Rebels defense continued to pressure the ball as Chen closed the quarter with a steal and pass to Gonzalez on the fastbreak for 41-35 lead to end the third.
“We just kept our focus up,” said Chen, who helped the Rebels advance to the Division III-A title game last season. “We kind of lost our focus in the second quarter, I think, but then, in the third, we always like to come up with a lot of energy.”
A put-back from Kyriakakis restored the Rebels’ double-digit lead to 48-37 with 5:31 left in the quarter, and despite the lead, the hosts’ defense continued to run rampant.
Another Chen steal with 4:06 remaining found Gonzalez for the easy layup and a 50-38 lead before the Rebels closed the game out on the line.
“Coach always tells us defense wins championships,” Chen said. “Our game plan was focusing on defense and forcing the two post and [Dorca Wu] to using their opposite hands or their weaker hands.”