By Fred Altieri
Home cookin' was all the Culver City High girls basketball team needed to get back on the winning track as they matter-of-factly took down their first two opponents to kick-off the 2014 Ocean League season at Del Goodyear Gymnasium.
The Centaurs easily finished off Morningside High in their league opener, 53-19, on Wednesday. Two nights later they summarily dismissed rival Santa Monica, 58-29 in likewise fashion.
It was a welcome relief after the girls had taken a couple of tough ones on the chin in the two previous games, losses to West Torrance, 60-58 and Serra, 70-55.
Centaur head coach Julian Anderson weighed his team. "I think it's a team that's really good. We're a deep team this year," he said.
"We finally got all of the players healthy and we just have to now put it together. The game against Morningside was a good start. The second half was just as good if not better than the first half."
Culver strolled to a 43-12 lead with a few minutes left in the third quarter. From that point on both coaches used a number of different lineups, emptied the benches and evaluated players as the final outcome was a foregone conclusion.
Anderson continued, "What we always try to identify is our level of play. Is it consistent no matter who we're playing? I thought it lacked towards the end of the first half. In the second half they played pretty well. I think the victory was more of a team effort."
The win over Santa Monica left Culver in a first place tie in the Ocean League with Inglewood at 2-0. Hawthorne and Beverly Hills are tied for third at 1-1 while Morningside and Santa Monica are both at 0-2.
"I don't know much about Santa Monica's team this year. You don't hear about them too much. In high school basketball it's really hard to have any other plan than your own. You can only do so much scouting in high school.
"You just have to stick with your program and maybe do some in-game adjustments, work on in-game adjustments in practice so that the team gets used to the changes on the fly and then hope everything works out in the end."
That strategy seemed to work for three quarters in the Centaur girls' disappointing double-digit loss at West Torrance the week before. It all happened during the final quarter when Culver was outscored by 21 points by the Warriors while suffering a two-point loss.
Anderson tried all the stops to no avail. "We were leading by 20 going into the fourth quarter and we fell apart somewhere," he said. "It was one of those games as a coach you throw everything you can at them and try to run that clock down. But it just didn't happen."
The game was a lockdown affair until the Centaurs took off in the second quarter by outscoring the Warriors by 12 points to take a 22-10 halftime lead. The third quarter saw the lead increase by seven points to 43-24. The fourth quarter witnessed the collapse.
"We were doing a good job of getting out to their shooters. We were doing a good job of creating havoc on defense. I don't think we played any worse in the fourth quarter but we didn't take care of the ball. We had more turnovers. West starting making a lot of three-pointers which brought momentum into the game."
The girls were determined to put the loss behind them. "We talked about it. We talked about the mindset," said Anderson.
"Michelle Curry went out early in the fourth quarter. I thought that hurt a little bit but we had played without her pretty much the whole season."
The highly anticipated non-league game at Serra in Gardena brought some silver lining despite the 15-point loss. Anderson saw some light.
"We were there. I was actually proud of that game. Serra's obviously Serra and everybody knows their potential. We were down by six and were right there and needed that push. We just couldn't get over that final 6-10 point hump. Then Michelle goes out again. She fouls out. We pushed but Serra's strong."
Culver took an early thrashing and was down, 25-12 after the first quarter. But they were determined to make it a game and were still only 13 points down at half, 40-27. They further cut the lead to ten after three quarters, 49-39. But the fourth quarter was not as kind and Serra slowly pulled away.
Anderson was resolved, "You just can't make a lot of mistakes against them. We had too many turnovers. Overall, I was pretty proud of the girls and the way they played that game. They played Serra pretty well."