La Cañada High girls' basketball rallies late for comeback win

LA CAÑADA — Down by 14 points after one quarter and 13 at the half against a team that was shooting lights out, the odds against the La Cañada High girls’ basketball squad making Saturday evening’s CIF Southern Section Division III-A second round playoff game competitive seemed pretty long.

Yet, not only did the host Spartans rally, but they salvaged their season thanks to several key offensive rebounds and a gutsy and gambling defense that produced 21 second-half turnovers, which helped turned a frantic comeback into a thrilling 44-42 victory.

“The funny thing is that everything we did in the second half was the game plan in the first half,” La Cañada Coach Tamar Hill said. “There were zero adjustments made other than we executed the defense better.”

With the victory, the Rio Hondo League champion Spartans (22-5), the divisional third seed, earned advancement to Wednesday’s quarterfinals at home at 7 p.m. versus Tri-Valley League runner-up Oak Park (18-10), the sixth seed.

Despite leading by four points with a little over two minutes remaining, the Spartans saw San Luis Obispo (13-11) rally and tie the contest at 42 with a four-foot shot from Alexi Nazarian (11 points) with 1:10 remaining.

The basket, which seemed to breathe life into a reeling Tigers squad, was immediately countered by a slashing drive and layup from senior guard Courtney Chen with 59.7 seconds remaining, which gave the Spartans a 44-42 lead.

San Luis Obispo tried to bounce back and had two solid looks from junior forward Natalia Demartini (10 points), who missed a 16-foot jumper with 44 seconds left and then a running 10-footer with 12 seconds left as Demartini became tied up with La Cañada’s Keilee Beesho on the rebound.

The jump-ball possession was awarded to La Cañada and Chen was fouled with 8.8 seconds left.

Even though Chen missed the two free throws, the Spartans caught a break when Demartini rebounded the ball, but lost her balance and traveled with 6.1 seconds left. La Cañada then ran out the clock.

“We just go fired up at halftime after we were down,” said Chen, who finished with 14 points and six steals. “We couldn’t be one and done, we had to fight back and we did.”

La Cañada trailed, 37-32, with 6:15 left in the fourth quarter before scoring four of the next five points and pulling to within 38-37 with 4:50 left after an offensive rebound and put-back from 6-foot-1 sophomore center Amber Graves.

The bucket was set up after Chen stole possession and missed on a three-point try, which was hauled in by Graves.

San Luis Obispo’s next possession wasn’t any better, as the PAC 7 League at-large entry turned the ball over again, which led to a Chen drive through the lane and kick to teammate Alyssa Miller.

Even though the senior forward had struggled to that point, going zero for five from beyond the arc, Miller didn’t hesitate in draining a straightaway three-pointer that sent the crowd into a frenzy, led to a timeout from Tigers Coach Dan Monroe and, most importantly, gave the Spartans a 39-38 advantage, their first lead of the game, with 4:22 left.

“Alyssa wasn’t happy with her game tonight, but I’m not sure there was a bigger shot tonight,” Hill said. “When she hit that, you can see that momentum changed. It was a big shot.”

Big shots just weren’t in the cards for the Spartans in the first half as the Tigers led, 32-19, at the break thanks in part to the team’s 12 for 22 (55 percent) shooting, which helped San Luis Obispo overcome 11 first-half turnovers.

The Tigers led, 24-10, after the first quarter and pulled away for the Spartans late in the second quarter in scoring the final four points.

“When we went into the locker room at halftime, we just talked about teamwork,” said Graves, who finished with nine points and 12 rebounds. “That’s the key to winning. We weren’t playing well as a team and we weren’t going to comeback unless we all started playing well.”

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World