By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
RIVERSIDE – Keppel High School girls basketball coach Joe Kikuchi searched inside and out of his lineup and playlist to find a way to defeat J.W. North of Riverside.
But the Huskies had all of the inside and outside answers. They went inside in the first half and then to the outside in the second half to defeat the Aztecs for the second time in less than 10 days, 55-43 in a CIF State Southern California regional Division II second-round game on Saturday night in a packed North gym in Riverside.
“We really thought we were going to be able to stop it and we couldn’t,” Kikuchi said of the Huskies’ inside game. “And then they got us from the outside. It was (last week) all over again.”
North, which defeated Keppel in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2AA semifinals last week in Alhambra, led by as many as 15 points in the first half. The Huskies, 22-6, went inside to Priscilla Brooks in the first half to build that lead.
Brooks had eight points and, more critically, eight rebounds, six off the offensive glass, in the first half. She finished with 11 points and 16 rebounds, 10 of them offensive.
“It was just hard,” said Keppel senior Alyson Lock, who had 20 points and 15 rebounds. “I am proud of our team. It was a good fight. We all had a great team effort.”
When the much smaller Aztecs, 26-6, finally figured out how to stop her inside play, the Huskies went outside to shooters Simone De Coud and Kamille Diaz.
“It was not our best game,” Kikuchi said. “From my eight seniors, I have nothing but praises. We played hard, but things did not go our way.”
The way the Huskies were playing, it did not appear Keppel had a chance to rally at all. Neither team could make a basket to start the second half, Keppel going 0-for-5 and North 0-for-9. The Aztecs found their rhythm first, going on a mini six-point run to cut the lead to 36-31. But with 11 seconds in the quarter, De Coud, who had all nine of her points in the second half, made a layup and was fouled. She missed the free throw, but the Huskies got the rebound and quickly sent it out to Diaz, who nailed a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left in the quarter to take the North lead back to 12 points.
“We got too lax.” North coach Leonard De Coud said. “We should have cleared them away in the first half and we didn’t.”
The Aztecs did come back, led by pressure defense, Keppel went on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to 44-42 on a Tammi Matsukiyo backdoor basket with 4:39 to play off a Lock pass.
“They were amazing to even make that run in that environment,” Kikuchi said. “Our defense did it.”
Brooks was fouled and made one of two foul shots and Samantha Lee, whose only points were two second quarter 3-pointers, missed a 21-footer.
“They were face-guarding me and I really couldn’t get away from them,” 3-pointer shooter Lee said. “It was pretty tough, but we still worked hard to get back our points. We were thinking we can do this. We’re still in it.”
Diaz, who had 14 points, scored on a layup and Lock hit one of two foul shots to cut the lead to 47-43 with 2:44 left, the final Keppel points of the season. Both teams then missed 3-point attempts. De Coud missed a 3-pointer, but she was fouled on the follow-through by Lesley Tan, the guard’s fifth foul. De Coud made all three shots for a 50-43 lead with 1:37 left, the final dagger in Keppel’s rally.
“I said, ‘Do you want to go home?’ ” De Coud told his team. “We just took our time and we had to stay aggressive. Keppel is a really good team. They are undersized in every aspect of the game and they play hard.”
Keppel turned the ball over the next four times down the floor, trying to rush off shots. It is the second consecutive year that Keppel has lost in the CIF-SS semifinals and second round of the CIF State tournament.
By Keith Lair, Staff Writer