The Long Beach Poly girls’ basketball team has been on a journey of improvement over the course of the 2021-22 season, with a roster full of mostly inexperienced players. The Jackrabbits showed how far they’ve come, especially defensively, in an impressive first-round win in their CIF-SS Division 1 playoff opener against Roosevelt. The Jackrabbits got total-team defensive effort and held their opponent to just four made field goals in the first half en route to a 67-42 victory.
The Jackrabbits will travel to Marlborough for a second-round contest on Wednesday evening.
The final score doesn’t indicate how comfortable the win was for Poly, as they led 34-9 at halftime. Poly coach Carl Buggs is looking to develop depth particularly among the program’s returners and began subbing early in the second half.
A defense-first coach, Buggs said he was pleased with the improvement he’s seen from his team, which forced 21 turnovers on Saturday.
“We did a great job in that first half not allowing them to penetrate, we were able to take control of the game in that first half,” he said.
Nala Williams led the way with 22 points, eight rebounds and five steals, but Poly got defense from all over the roster. Destiny Horton is normally a post player but was guarding the perimeter against Roosevelt, and did a great job there.
“She stepped up and took that on,” said Buggs. Andrea Perkins is another player whose growth has been apparent, and she played great defense Saturday, not just producing steals but also getting tie-ups.
“She’s understanding that there’s a lot of ways you can still contribute even if you have a night where you’re not hitting shots, that’s okay,” said Buggs.
The good news for Poly is that in addition to their defense stepping up, they’re also starting to see much more balanced scoring, with Williams carrying less of the load. Kristal Caldwell scored 12 points against Roosevelt, and Skylar Mills added 10. In addition to having three double-digit scorers, Poly got a pair of threes off the bench from Jaleina Taliauli, another player who subbed in to play great defense, as well as a three from Perkins.
“We played team ball today,” said Williams. “Everybody was scoring and making shots, it felt like a balanced basketball game.”
Asked about her team’s improved defense, she credited Buggs’ coaching but also the dynamic of the team.
“Our chemistry is really important, we love playing together and playing good basketball, our practices have been going up a lot recently,” she said.
Chrystian Smith led Roosevelt with nine points, backed up by Dailani Richardon’s eight points.