By Fred Altieri
The quest to return to the CIF Southern Section championship began last Saturday with a solid step from the Culver City High girls basketball team.
They squarely beat visiting Elsinore High, 75-47 in the first round of Division 2AA playoff action at Del Goodyear Gymnasium. Centaur senior center Michelle Curry took matters into her own hands as she scored early, controlled the boards often and was the catalyst on numerous fast-breaks.
Culver head coach Julian Anderson noted her effectiveness: "Michelle Curry had 25 points in all but she did set the tone quite early as I believe she scored the first three baskets for us.
"She demands so much attention that her teammates' shots are more open. When she scored 13 points in the first quarter the other coach had to adjust. Normally that means double-teaming her or sagging off to help cover her."
Culver led 27-13 after the first quarter. The contest never got closer as the girl Tigers couldn't solve the Centaur attack.
Despite the wire-to-wire victory Anderson expects his team to improve throughout the playoffs: "During practice we worked on weaknesses and getting ready by keeping things pretty consistent. How we played defensively during this game is what concerned me. We need to play better defensively. We did make adjustments that helped us but ultimately we missed a lot of assignments. I thought we could play better defensively."
The lead increased to 18 at halftime, 38-20, as the Centaur defense limited Elsinore to seven points during the second quarter. But Anderson didn't take the Lions lightly:
"It would be no doubt if Elsinore played in the Ocean League they would come in second or third place at the very least. I also think that if they played us more than once they would give us a better run the second time around. It was a matter of never seeing and playing against us before that it resulted in a pretty bad matchup for them."
The Centaurs kept up pressure on the offensive end after the half but also got a notable performance from their backcourt.
Anderson remarked: "Hopefully this was Lindsey Tanita's breakout moment, "coming out party" we call it. She played very well. She attacked the rim. She didn't allow the girls to pressure her on the perimeter. She decided to go right by them.
"It's something that we've been preaching: the opponents are not going to respect you until you constantly take them to the basket. At some point they're going to have to back off and let you run the play. She was successful and I thought she had a really good game."
The third quarter ended with the Centaurs leading 56-33. They also were going to the free throw line as 10 different Elsinore players had at least one foul. Culver converted more than 75% of its free-throws which contributed in allowing the coach to give more playing minutes to his bench and with it valuable playoff experience.
Anderson commented on his support players: "The girls coming off the bench played okay but they have to do better. The second group definitely has to finish plays and execute better. But overall I thought that every girl that got in played hard.
"So I don't think their intensity or work ethic was in question. It's just a matter of mixing that with a little more basketball I.Q. and getting a little sharper."
Curry continued to show why she is a dominant player during the regular, league and post seasons. She boxed-out and grabbed rebounds at will, ripped away steals, threaded passes and wrestled the ball from opponent's hands. She scored using the vast array of weapons in her arsenal: a short jumper, a hard low-post and pivot, a banging put-back, a driving coast-to-coast layup or a soft floater.
Anderson gave his perspective: "The difference between Michelle and everyone else is that she's willing to go hard and play hard. It's difficult to jump on every shot. It's hard to put your legs into every shot because that requires a lot of grit and a lot of kids just won't do it. You won't see a lot of that but Michelle is willing to do it."
Ultimately, it was another fine team effort that seems to tighten with each game. Kailey Tooke contributed 11 points and forced several timely turnovers. Tanita also had 11 points. Kelsey Ueda added nine points, Katie Lin and Kate Suyetsugu contributed eight points each, while Megan Yoon hit an early three-pointer during Culver's initial surge.
Anderson concluded: "I think every last girl on our team except for one has playoff experience. Our girls definitely played four quarters of ball and were definitely in the hunt the whole game in terms of being hungry and being up."