Centaurs Advance in Playoff Thriller
By Fred Altieri
Grace, poise, execution and team defined the Culver City High girls basketball team at Del Goodyear Gymnasium last Saturday night as the they went toe-to-toe with perennial Orange County power Foothill High.
And the Centaurs delighted the intimate but boisterous home crowd in a third round CIF Southern Section, Division 2AA playoff thriller by seizing victory in the final crucial minutes, 57-49.
Only four days earlier the Culver girls took a nice long bus ride out to San Bernardino County and thoroughly eliminated Eisenhower High from Rialto, 58-27.
Centaur head coach Julian Anderson appreciated his team's effort: "I believe the score was 9-0 before they scored a bucket. We've had a couple of games this year where we look up at the scoreboard and go, "Wow! How did we accomplish that?" But I didn't substitute too soon and give Eisenhower an opportunity to come back."
He knew the game against Foothill was going to be a different story: "Foothill is a very classy organization. They're very well coached. We knew what we were getting ready to get into. All of our girls were aware of their history and accomplishments."
The visiting Knights came out swinging and took an 11-7 lead by aggressively attacking the Centaurs, who were suddenly playing without the benefit of Michelle Curry. Culver's leading scorer and rebounder received her second personal foul 2:30 into the game after she had scored four quick but tough points in the paint.
It took the rest of the quarter for her teammates and her replacement, Gwen Machado, to re-establish themselves as Foothill went for the quick knockout. It never came.
Anderson went to his bench early: "Gwen was ready because we had already talked about playing her a lot more. We were going to play her and Michelle together. Gwen came in and did a really good job."
He accepted what the Foothill defense was giving his team: "Foothill guarded the three-point shot very well. It was actually better for us as I prefer to attack the basket instead of shooting threes even though we are a good three-point shooting team."
Culver's Kailey Tooke began asserting herself with key loose-ball hustles and stinging baseline floaters. Katie Lin hit two three-pointers and Kelsey Ueda also nailed a long one. The Centaurs were now the team delivering shots across the bow, rendering Foothill practically rudderless for the next quarter. A 20-9 run gave them a 27-20 halftime lead but not safe by any means.
Culver came out in the second half trying to land a haymaker of their own and soon rolled to a 35-22 lead. On cue the girl Knights responded with a fierce offensive thrust and a sense of urgency while the Centaurs were again denied precious minutes from Curry, who received her fourth foul of the game during the third quarter.
It was a toxic combination for Culver. Their 13-point lead evaporated in minutes. Only 2:38 remained in the game when Foothill suddenly regained a 47-46 lead as their faithful erupted with glee from the wooden bleachers.
Anderson realized: "Our girls felt like they were protecting the drive but didn't realize their girls were going to shoot it in our face the way they did. I thought up until that point that we actually had good control. We just didn't close out and it gave them open shots."
The next play exemplified Culver City girls basketball this season. Without calling a timeout Tooke dribbled the ball up the left side of the court as she took instructions from Anderson on the near sideline. Curry established a low post outside the paint, her right arm extended asking for the ball. Two seconds later two quick passes found Kate Suyetsugu in the near corner. Without batting an eyelash, she drove the baseline and put the ball off the glass between two Knights guarding the rim.
Foothill was stunned. The hometown fans were ecstatic.
Anderson smiled: "They were double-teaming Michelle. In that situation we tell her to look for the open player. Kate ran along the baseline as she was balancing the floor, which is part of the designed concept of the offense but not a particular play. Kate is fearless. She's taking a lot of pride in learning how to become a defensive player and the hustle that she gives. But she goes in there with ice in her veins."
Culver's one-point lead symbolically sealed Foothill's fate as they outscored the Knights 11-2 to end the game. Anderson allowed: "I think the girls collectively really picked it up. Foothill missed a few shots that they were hitting. I wanted get them to play out of their rhythm, to be more of a panicked, chaotic-type offense for them.
"We wanted to be extremely aggressive, push it a bit, take a risk and see what happens. And it worked out. It was definitely a quality win for us."