Defense leads Spartans to tourney win

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — The statistics told the story of how dominating the La Cañada High girls’ basketball team’s defense was Tuesday night.

The Spartans held Ramona Convent to only two baskets in the first half of their pool-play game in La Cañada’s fifth annual New Year’s Bash Tournament, held the Tigers to no points over a five-minute stretch of the first quarter and controlled the boards in a contest that quickly got out of reach.

La Cañada’s defense and rebounding made up for a sub-par shooting night, as the Spartans ran away with a 59-31 home victory.

“Offense is important, but defense is key, especially if we’re not shooting well,” said La Canada’s Lauren Barsamian, who had a game-high 17 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end, to go with 10 points and two blocks.

“We worked really hard on defense.”

The Spartans’ defense overwhelmed the Tigers (4-6), as La Canada used a 19-1 blitz in the final seven minutes of the first quarter to take a 21-4 lead entering the second period.

The run was in part due to the Tigers’ struggles from the field — they went 14 minutes without making a field goal and were two of 23 (8.7%) from the field in the first half — as well as the Spartans’ offensive rebounding. La Cañada collected 30 rebounds in the first half to Ramona Convent’s nine, and the Spartans had a 13-1 advantage on the offensive boards, with Barsamian grabbing all of her offensive rebounds in the opening half.

“The height advantage is what really ended up being the deciding factor,” said Spartans Coach Tamar Hill, referring to Barsamian (6 foot 1) and Micaela Anderson (6-2), who had eight points, 12 rebounds and five blocks.

The Spartans (7-6) held a 28-9 halftime advantage before lapses on defense kept the game from becoming even a bigger blowout, as La Cañada never led by less than 19.

“We came out strong and died out there in the third quarter,” said Hill, whose team was 26 of 72 (36.1%) from the field, but followed most of those misses with 18 offensive rebounds to the Tigers’ three.

One Spartan who never let up was point guard Courtney Chen.

The sophomore was superb for the Spartans, scoring a game-high 16 points — including 10 in the second half — to go with eight assists, seven steals and five rebounds.

“Courtney is a great player,” Hill said. “We live and die by Courtney. We rely on her a lot. She’s everywhere. She’s breaking down the press, she’s chasing down people on defense.”

Chen said her role is to simply help her teammates.

“My role is to take care of the ball,” she said, “and just do whatever I can to make our teammates comfortable, not stressed and not rushed.”

The Spartans — who also received eight points from Kasey Okazaki — played a pool-play games at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday against Franklin and Thursday against Hart at the same time.

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