Before Saturday’s CIF Southern Section Division 1 second round girls’ basketball playoff game between Long Beach Poly and Lynwood started, the Ron Palmer Pavilion had the air of a family reunion. Poly coach Carl Buggs coached at Lynwood for 16 years and his wife and top assistant coach, Lakeisha Buggs, is a Lynwood alum. Before the game there were plenty of hugs, shoulder pats, and much reminiscing.
Then the game started, and the jovial atmosphere turned intense, for one of the best-coached, best-played contests of the year. In the end, Poly’s depth and a sensational effort from Kalaya Buggs carried the Jackrabbits past the Knights, 55-47.
Carl bolted to go video the Esperanza/Harvard-Westlake game right after the contest had finished, so Lakeisha handled interview duties. “It always feels a little weird to play them since it’s my alma mater, but we really respect their program,” she said after the game.
Poly’s biggest challenge was in slowing down Knights sophomore Rayah Marshall, a 6’1” force who came into the game averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds per game. Kalaya Buggs was tasked with guarding her, creating an exciting matchup of two of Southern California’s best sophomores. Buggs won the battle in the first half, holding Marshall to just two points with a combination of physicality and ball denial, doing a great job of changing strategies each possession to keep Marshall from getting comfortable.
Buggs also ended up being Poly’s leading scorer with 12 points.
“It’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of energy to guard a player like her,” she said after the game. “I just tried to not let her get the ball and then when she did, I tried to turn her into a shooter and not let her get to the basket.”
The two teams played tight the whole first half, with Poly holding a narrow 26-23 lead at halftime. The knights took their first lead in the third quarter and would eventually go up 34-32 with three minutes remaining in the period before Buggs hit a three-pointer to put Poly up. The Jackrabbits never grew the lead to a comfortable margin, but kept the lead the rest of the game.
In addition to Buggs, Poly got great effort from Ashlee Lewis (11 points, 19 rebounds), Deja Williams (11 points), and Kaci Scott (10 points). Marshall finished with 15 points to lead Lynwood.
Poly will travel to Harvard-Westlake on Wednesday for a quarterfinal matchup.