Under head coach Carl Buggs, Long Beach Poly’s girls’ basketball team has always been known for great defense and toughness. Both were on full display during a master class victory over Harvard-Westlake in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinals on Wednesday evening in the Wolverines’ gym. Poly clamped down on a potent H-W attack in the middle half of the game and went on to win, 54-42.
The Jackrabbits allowed just five points in the second quarter, and just nine in the third, winning the middle half of the game 29-14.
“We felt we could pressure their guards and take away some of the things they want to do,” said Buggs after the game.
After a first quarter that saw the Wolverines lead 12-11, Poly proceeded to take away everything that H-W was trying to do. Relentless pressure on the perimeter kept the H-W guards from swinging the ball, or from comfortably dumping it inside. The Wolverines scored just two field goals in the second quarter, and from the start of that period until there were two minutes remaining in the third quarter, H-W scored just 10 points, over a 14 minute stretch.
A big part of that defensive effort was junior Ashlee Lewis, who led Poly in scoring (12 points), rebounding (16 boards), and also defended the Wolverines’ best player, sophomore KiKi Iriafen. While Iriafen finished with 22 points, Lewis held her to just 10 points in the first three quarters.
“We play a tough schedule and we push ourselves in practice on our defense,” said Lewis. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves because of the history of the program.”
Lewis played well, and senior Deja Williams had seven points and four assists, with Kaci Scott chipping in 11 points. But the breakout star of the game might have been freshman Nala Williams, a JV call-up in just her second varsity game ever. Williams was an offensive spark for Poly off the bench, knocking down three 3-pointers and also forcing two turnovers on defense.
“She was ready tonight,” said Buggs. “She was already ready offensively, she’s been working on her defense all year and that’s why we didn’t hesitate to throw her in there.”
Williams got elbowed in the face at one point and had to briefly come out so the Poly training staff could bandage a cut on her cheek. After the game, she shrugged when asked about the injury.
“It’s the playoffs,” she said.
Poly remains alive in those playoffs with the win, and will travel to ML King on Friday for the Division 1 semifinals, with a trip to the championship game on the line. For previews and features running up to the game, stay tuned to the562.org.