It took Long Beach Poly a little while to find its groove on Tuesday night in the opening round of the CIF State Division II girls’ basketball bracket, but once the Jackrabbits settled in they clearly outclassed their opponent in a 59-51 win over Westview at the Ron Palmer Pavilion.
“(Westview) came out with more energy, and we didn’t respond in the first quarter,” said Poly head coach Carl Buggs, who saw his team trailing 17-12 after the first eight minutes. “It took us a quarter to realize how hard you have to play. And from that point on, I thought our defense picked up and was solid, especially late in the game.”
The visiting Wolverines drained three first-quarter three’s, giving Jackrabbit fans some uncomfortable flashbacks to their CIF-SS semifinal loss to Viewpoint last week. Only this time, the Jackrabbit offense was able to find some success from a variety of sources.
Nala Williams was the team’s driving force once again, with a casual 18 points, 12 rebounds and six steals to lead the team in all categories. She had just four points in the first half, but busted out for 10 in the third quarter to help Poly start to turn the tide.
The supporting cast stepped up and did well in support of the senior guard, with four players scoring nine or more points. Skylar Mills led the team with eight points in the first half before finishing with 11, and Jaleina Taliauli was a key contributor off the bench with 11 points of her own.
Point guard Kristal Caldwell was a little erratic at times, but also caused chaos on defense and helped steward some key offensive spurts for Poly. She finished with nine points, six assists and three steals. Sophomore Andrea Perkins ended with just five points, but played some key minutes for the Jackrabbits down the stretch and contributed on both ends of the floor.
“We had more contributors today, and that’s what you have to do,” Buggs said. “You have to contribute, and those players are capable of contributing, they just have to be consistent with it, that’s all.”
After trailing by five at the end of the first, Poly gradually took control over the game as the night wore on. The Jackrabbits trailed by just one (26-25) at the half, then led 45-43 headed to the fourth quarter. Poly opened the final frame on an 8-2 run to get some breathing room and eventually pushed the lead to 11 before Westview hit an uncontested three in the closing seconds.
Alexa Litchev led Westview with 14 points, Alexa Cote had a dozen and Jaelin Baylon added 11 for the Wolverines.
As the No. 3 seed in the bracket, the Jackrabbits have earned another home game in round two. Poly will welcome No. 6 seed Sage Hill for a 6:30 p.m. game on Thursday night. The Lightning were 52-41 winners over Nipomo in their State playoff opener, and have a head-to-head win over Poly this season. Sage Hill beat the Jackrabbits, 49-46, during tournament play back on Dec. 27.