By Fred Altieri
Let the games begin. Having taken care of business during the regular season the Culver City High girls basketball team began preparing this week for the CIF Southern Section playoffs.
The team will host a Division 2AA first round match with Elsinore High from the Sunbelt League this Saturday night at 7 p.m. in Del Goodyear Gymnasium.
The Centaur girls were given an indifferent seventh seed despite having swept the Ocean League for the third year in a row.
Last Thursday Culver went to Beverly Hills and systematically beat the Norman girls, 63-18 en route to stretching their winning streak in league to 30 consecutive games.
They made it to the CIF Playoff Division 2A championship game last season.
Head coach Julian Anderson was resigned to the situation: "We got the seventh seed. I was hoping to get somewhere around the four mark. We got the seventh seed probably because of the lack of strength of our league. The committee uses algorithms to come up with their seeding."
He was intent on maintaining his approach in preparing as business-as-usual: "I don't think taking the girls out of their norm at this point would be healthy. I don't like making them feel that this is a different game. I've approached the playoffs this way since the beginning of time.
"It's always been that way no matter where or what tournament I was playing in, whether I was coaching sixth graders or college students. If you start putting in plays here or doing something different in practice then the players get ideas that this must be more important than anything else."
The importance of playing on home court was also not overlooked: "The crowds tend to get bigger as the playoffs go along. Last year we got lucky and had three playoff games at home. By the time we hit the semifinals at Culver City, the gym was packed."
The Centaur girls' victory over Beverly Hills was a veritable repeat of how they've played for the greater part of the league season. They jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. The Normans were very involved but that mattered very little as Culver took a 36-17 lead at half.
Anderson related: "We came out really strong at Beverly. Beverly came out once again with high intensity. They executed fairly well themselves but our girls were pretty focused. We played well. We haven't been at the top of our game recently. The girls took that into consideration and came out with the right edge."
The Centaurs were not about to rest on their laurels as their defense then put an official stamp on why they have dominated the Ocean League in recent years. With 5:43 remaining in the third quarter Beverly hit one of two free throws making the score 41-18 in Culver's favor. The Norman girls wouldn't score for the rest of the game.
Anderson gave his girls full credit: "We talked about how we prepared for the Beverly game, how the girls went in and found that mentality before the game started. That was the biggest thing. They made the decision.
"It was no magic word I said that got them going. It was their decision to buckle down and do the right thing."
And this was a full-team effort as Anderson used his entire bench early and often, which is his preferred method: "I went to the bench even a little earlier than I normally do. The objective is to play everybody if you can. Unfortunately you can't do that all the time but when you get the opportunity you want to. More than anything, that comes first."
He continued: "You never know who'll get hurt, who can't make it and for whatever reason you may need that girl who's sitting on the bench. I thought that everybody that came into the game did a fairly decent job. That's their responsibility."
This week the team will go about practice in a normal fashion even though they won't play their usual two or three games during the week as scheduled during the regular season. The Centaurs are taking the alteration into consideration while they prepare for Saturday's action. Coach Anderson insists on taking it one game at a time with very little drama.
"This is going to be a tricky week. By the time Thursday hits, the girls are going to be tired of practice and they'll be ready to play. I have to figure out a way to keep their morale up and boost it a little bit. I'll give it my best shot. I'm hoping they'll come out Saturday night playing like they do every night. I'm sure there will be a little excitement and anxiety but we're going to prepare and hope for the best."