By Fred Altieri
Senior Night was fittingly special for the Culver City High girls basketball team as it captured the Ocean League championship while cruising in the second half over Hawthorne High, 61-41.
It was the Centaurs' third straight league title and the girls have won 29 straight league games. They play their last league game of the season this Thursday, February 13, at Beverly Hills High, the last team to beat them in league.
The Centaur girls took a 23-12 first quarter lead and never looked back. This was a return to a precedent they had established over the course of the season after uncharacteristically being down after the first and second quarters in the previous two league games.
The score increased by halftime at 30-16 as the defense started to make its impression. The second half saw both coaches using their full rosters as the score jumped to 51-27 after three quarters.
Centaur head coach Julian Anderson acknowledged his senior girls and one who has been with the program since he took over the reins: "Senior night is special for the team. I'm losing one of my top players, someone who has been a part of this program from the time she was in sixth, seventh grade, Kelsey Ueda. It's huge because it's like a sibling going off to college."
He added: "We have three seniors on the team right now: Michelle Curry, Kelli Tademaru and Kelsey. It would be nice to win and solidify the league championship for the team and the seniors."
The teams' two previous victories did not come without a struggle. Last Wednesday night's 56-32 victory at Santa Monica High saw the Culver girls down 8-6 after the first quarter and 22-20 at halftime. Anderson noticed the change from earlier action: "I didn't know if the girls were getting comfortable in thinking that because they are beating teams by such a large margin they weren't playing with the right intensity. There were a lot of mistakes made that we ordinarily don't make not to mention that we weren't shooting very well which to me a lot of times comes because there is a lack of focus."
He realized that his team has a permanent target on its back due to its success in recent years: "There can be a little complacency from winning eight or nine straight games. When you're at the top of the league you become the prey. Everybody's hunting for you and it's not a situation where you can be comfortable in."
He continued: "It's actually a harder situation to be in than if you were at the bottom of the league at times. Teams that have nothing to lose or you give them a little bit of confidence and hope, they are going to come out and really try to get to you early."
But the Centaurs regrouped during halftime and made the appropriate changes but Anderson related that an important element is needed to attain the next level: "During halftime of the Santa Monica game we talked and just figured it out. Not being able to scout teams the way we would like to make the matchups take a little while to figure out.
"One of the Santa Monica players played very well. You think it's not going to last but she motivated her team and it became a smoking gun. In the second half we realized that we had to pick it up. It's a matter of developing a killer instinct that I don't think we have yet."
Two nights later at home in another hard fought 48-40 win against their current chief rival Inglewood High, Culver City was tied after the first quarter 11-11 and down to a spirited Sentinel girl squad 22-20 at halftime.
More adjustments were enacted by the Centaurs which enabled them to outscore Inglewood, 16-8 in the third quarter.
Anderson saw the difference from the teams' first league encounter: "One of the major differences was in the last game at Inglewood we allowed them to get up by 10 points. We didn't allow it this time. We missed a lot of defensive assignments that would have been major difference in that game.
"The more you allow a team to score the more confidence you give a team. We should have taken some of that stuff away from them early."
He finished but is still looking for improvement for his team: "We decided to play a little harder. We tightened up our defense the way we were supposed to. By conversing and adjusting we were able to play better. It was a matter of some of our defensive assignments as some of our rotations are actually new. For the most part we did okay but again we just weren't consistent."