The goal of most basketball teams is to get off to a fast start. Well, how does 20-0 sound?
The Indio High School girls’ basketball team used a stifling zone defense and crisp offense, to score the game’s first 20 points against Diamond Ranch (Pomona) and was never really threatened as they cruised to a 65-41 win in a CIF-SS first-round Division 3AA playoff game Thursday.
The visiting Panthers scored a free throw with three seconds left in the first quarter, giving the Rajahs the unusual-looking lead of 20-1 heading into the second quarter.
“Starting fast is huge because for one, it reassures us that we’re here to do what we need to do and it’s working,” said Indio senior Eva Rodriguez. “The other team notices too, and gives us second looks like ‘They’re something not to be trifled with. They’re doing something and we can’t stop them.’ “
The height advantage of Rodriguez and Dneesya Baxter was a problem for the visitors all night as they combined to score 14 of the 20 first-quarter points. Baxter finished with 20 points on a variety of pretty post moves, drop steps and putbacks. Rodriguez had 12.
Rodriguez said that the inside game coupled with the all-around skills of star guard Jazmyne Santiel make them a difficult team to guard.
“Coach (Martin White) has taught us an inside-outside theory and we stick to that because when we get it inside we have the height advantage and if we can’t get an open shot we’re about kicking it back out,” she said.
And kicking it back out means getting the ball to the electric Santiel.
Santiel let the post players do the work early and then she took control when she needed to the rest of the way. She finished with a game-high 26, including an outrageous spurt in the fourth quarter when she scored six points in 10 seconds. She canned two free throws, and then twice in a row, stole the ball at midcourt and streaked in for a left-handed layup. It had the Indio crowd buzzing.
“It’s great to have that homecourt advantage and we used it tonight,” Santiel said. “It’s so fun to play here, and I’m not about to say this is our last game here, but if it is, it was a fun way to go. But we’re focused on getting past that second round which we weren’t able to do last year. That’s our goal.”
The Rajahs (17-12) will play a talented Sonora (La Habra) team on the road Saturday. Sonora beat Gahr 61-15 on Thursday. Coach White said that for the Rajahs to emerge victorious it will be about one particular end of the floor.
“Just like tonight we want to come out and establish our rhythm defensively,” White said. “Whatever fails on offense, we can always play our behinds off defensively and when we play well defensively, we’re very good. Defense, defense, defense, defense and then the offense will come.”
Another key part to winning on the road: playing together as a family. That’s important to the Rajah program. As some of the seniors like Santiel, Rodriguez and sophomore foreign exchange student Mounia Mkadmi exited the floor Thursday, they got an ovation from the crowd and a nice hug from White. He even did a few quick dance moves in some cases.
It’s all part of the plan at Indio, according to coach White.
“With us, this thing has always been more to us about celebrating each other and family than it has been about basketball,” White said. “We don’t know how many more times we have together so every time is special. If we focus on loving each other and good things happen.”
For Diamond Ranch, Ebony Cooper led the way with 19 points. Sarah Kretschmar added 17.