LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Without a true center in the paint for the La Can¿ada High girls' basketball team, San Marino was able to dominate the boards and run the floor en route to building a big first-quarter lead.
The cushion, along with two key buzzer-beating threes from Felita Salim, helped the Titans outlast a Spartans push for a 54-43 Rio Hondo League win at La Can¿ada Friday. Both of Salim's shots came late in the third quarter and kept momentum from swinging permanently to the home team.
"We beat them three out of four quarters, but they had some big buzzer beaters and those are just demoralizing, especially since you've been in such a big hole in the first quarter," La Can¿ada Coach Tamar Hill said.
La Can¿ada (10-9, 2-1 in league) battled through the opening quarter without either of its two centers, Micaela Anderson and Lauren Barsamian. Anderson was sidelined after spraining her ankle Thursday and Barsamian sat out the first quarter after missing Thursday's practice but still finished the game with 10 rebounds, seven points and three blocks.
"Without having that center in there grounding us, I think it threw us all off a little bit on our offense," Hill said.
By the end of the opening quarter, the Spartans were at a 23-7 disadvantage. San Marino's Leigh Kunitake led her team in the first half, scoring 18 of her game-high 23 points in the first half.
"It gave us confidence and got us relaxed a little bit," said Kunitake of her team's hot start. "We didn't want to make it so that they can come back. We just wanted to play our game."
La Cañada's Courtney Chen led her team back in the third quarter, as the Spartans cut the deficit to 10 at 37-27 with a 6-0 run with 4:30 left in the third.
Salim (11 points) snapped the run with a three-pointer that just beat the shot clock with about three minutes left in the quarter.
La Cañada, ranked sixth in CIF Southern Section Division III-A, re-upped for another run and cut the lead to nine points (41-32) with a 5-1 run — Chen (20 points) scored all five points — with 10 seconds left in the third.
Salim took the wind out of the opposition's sails again with a buzzer-beating three to put her team up, 44-32, headed into the final quarter.
"[Salim's shots] were huge because it seemed they were just making a little run," San Marino Coach Kenny Fisher said. "Once those went in I thought we're going to win this game."
The Spartans managed to cut the lead back down to nine points (51-42) with 56 seconds left in the game on a Barsamian putback.
The Titans (9-7, 2-1) jumped out to an 11-2 lead about three minutes into the game. The lead ballooned to 23-7 by the end of the quarter after the Spartans committed six turnovers and were out rebounded, 9-1, in the opening eight minutes.
Fisher said the quick start was key to the victory.
"It was great because we have a tendency to lose it a little bit in the fourth quarter so we were able to run out and hide a little bit," he said. "It allowed us to relax a bit."