La Cañada High girls' basketball finishes strong

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — As host of its tournament, the La Cañada High basketball team expected quality results.

It didn’t pan out for the Spartans, who lost the first three games of the La Cañada Holiday Classic and dropped to the event’s seventh-place game Saturday.

Thanks to a big effort from its go-to athlete on both ends of the court, La Cañada got itself back on track.

Courtney Chen finished with 13 points, eight assists and nine steals to lead La Cañada to a 53-34 victory against Village Christian.

“We talked about being able to turn things around,” said La Canada Coach Tamar Hill, whose team started the tournament with defeats against Royal, Moorpark and Golden Valley. “It was important to be able to establish ourselves early on and not look back.

“We played some tough teams [in the tournament] and it’s tough to have to play four games in four straight days. It came down to making some shots. We want to keep getting better at that.”

It began with Chen, a junior guard, igniting the Spartans.

Chen, a reigning All-Rio Hondo League, All-Area and All-CIF honoree, helped the Spartans overcome an early six-point deficit midway through the first quarter. Chen, who earned all-tournament accolades, made a three-pointer to knot it at 11 with 1:20 remaining in the first quarter.

“Mentally, I thought we were more into it,” said Chen, who finished with seven first-half points to help the Spartans build a 23-18 halftime advantage. “We just wanted to get back to winning and not lose all of our tournament games.

“We tried to incorporate a lot of things and make sure to get everybody involved. We were able to slow the pace down and get some better shots.”

The Spartans received a respectable performance from sophomore guard Keilee Bessho, who finished with 12 points and four assists. Freshman center Amber Graves contributed six points and a game-best 10 rebounds for La Cañada, which got nine points from junior forward Alyssa Miller and eight from senior forward Lauren Barsamian.

On La Cañada’s first possession of the second half, Bessho made a three-pointer to extend the Spartans’ lead to 26-18. Chen made it 30-19 on a layup with 3:50 to play in the third quarter.

Chen recorded a steal and made a nice pass to Barsamian, who made a three-pointer to make it 36-24 with 1:43 remaining in the third quarter.

“Courtney had another great game,” Hill said. “She got everybody involved and that’s because she sees the court so well.

“We also got a good bounce-back game from Keilee.”

Village Christen got a game-high 17 points from senior forward Samantha Pyros and nine rebounds from senior center Aubrey Pyburn, who was named to the all-tournament team.

La Cañada will next participate in a nonleague contest at 6 p.m. Jan. 7 at Maranatha before beginning league play at 5:15 p.m. Jan. 9 at Monrovia. La Cañada last won a league championship in 2010.

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