By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
LA VERNE — Diamond Ranch coach Mike James lost count of how many times Bonita High School’s Nikki Wheatley grabbed a rebound, sped down court and converted an easy basket.
Wheatley scored 12 of her game-high 23 points on fast-break buckets, and also had seven rebounds to lead Bonita to a 53-43 win over Diamond Ranch, giving the Bearcats (19-3, 7-0) firm control of the Hacienda League with a season sweep over the Panthers (17-6, 5-2).
“Those kill you,” James said of Wheatley’s coast-to-coast baskets. “Our game plan was to not give up those type of baskets to her in transition. But she keeps coming, you have to always get back. And every time you relax, there she goes again.
“One of the best parts of her game is she gets rebounds. And when she gets them she goes by everybody, by our team and by her team. She’s just fast and under control. When she’s going to the basket she’s such a good athlete that she can finish or get to the line.”
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Diamond Ranch committed 11 of its 18 turnovers in the first half on careless turnovers and pressure from the Bonita guards, who did a great job of trapping and forcing mistakes. Bonita raced to a 22-8 lead after the Bearcats’ Jackie Loy buried a 3-pointer midway through the second quarter.
“I wish we could have had that first quarter back,” James said. “We were hyped up and this is a tough place to play. But I told them before the game this will be a game of runs, it’s going to go back and forth like that and in the fourth it’s going to be a matter of who makes free throws and mistakes. And we made too many mistakes to win the game.”
Diamond Ranch continued playing without senior Erika Williams, who hasn’t played since injuring her knee in the first game against Bonita. But fellow senior Chelsea Barnes was able to bring the Panthers back, scoring 12 of her team-high16 points in the second half.
After trimming the Bearcats’ lead to 39-33 after three quarters, Sydney Cabellon buried a 3-pointer to trim the deficit to 41-38 with 5:17 left.
But then Wheatley answered with a 12-foot jumper straightaway with Barnes in her face to go back up 43-38, and the Bearcats held on by making 10 straight free throws down the stretch.
Bonita’s Ariana Abo scored seven of her nine points at the free throw line and forward Sarah Jackson was great in the paint, finishing with seven points and eight rebounds.
“It’s nice to beat them, they’re a very good team and Chelsea is an amazing player,” Wheatley said. “It’s great having them in our league. They challenge you and they make you play hard.”
Though Wheatley spent several hours in the offseason working on her jump shot, she still knows her strength is in transition, and those easy buckets are a big reason why the Bearcats are the second-ranked team in Division 3AAA. Diamond Ranch is third in Division 3AA
“I didn’t feel like I had much of a shot last year so I wanted to work on it,” Wheatley admitted. “But I still try to get my fast breaks as much as possible, because that gets your offense going. It got us going tonight.”
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