By Fred J. Robledo
Bonita High School sophomore Nikki Wheatley makes the game look so easy with her ball-handling and quickness that you forget the Bearcats have a 6-foot-3 senior center named Brianna Kennedy who is on her way to Loyola Marymount University.
Offensively, Kennedy didn’t do much this year. Not because she couldn’t, she didn’t need to with the speedy Wheatley scoring so much in transition and the Bearcats cruising to the Hacienda League title to earn the second-seed in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3AAA playoffs.
But if Bonita has serious intentions of returning to the divisional championship game for a second straight season, Kennedy will have to be a force, especially in the later rounds against teams with more depth.
That’s why it was especially pleasing for Bonita coach Darren Baumunk to watch Kennedy finish with a game-high 19 points and eight blocks in Bonita’s easy 62-29 first-round victory over neighboring South Hills on Thursday.
TONIGHT’S GIRLS BASKETBALL FIRST ROUND RESULTS
Charter Oak 46, El Monte 35
Azusa 25, Estancia 21
Bishop Amat 67, Santa Paula 32
Artesia 52, Gladstone 40
Gahr 71, Baldwin Park 27
South Torrance 55, Rowland 44
Arroyo 54, Fullerton 31
Los Amigos 53, Glendora 33
Bonita 62, South Hills 29
Jurupa Valley 69, Sierra Vista 32
Rosemead 41, West Valley 34
Diamond Ranch 69, El Modena 18
Wilson 49, La Mirada 40
Harvard-Westlake at Rowland, 7 p.m.
Duarte 70, San Marino 27
Workman 83, Harvard-Westlake 64
La Sierra at Diamond Bar, 7 p.m.
Ayala at Royal, 7 p.m.
West Covina at Thousand Oaks, 7 p.m.
Redlands East Valley at Chino Hills, 7 p.m.
Claremont at Saugus, 7 p.m.
Arroyo Grande at Arroyo, 7 p.m.
Bonita at Los Amigos, 7 p.m.
Rosemead at Antelope Valley, 7 p.m.
Diamond Ranch at Hawthorne, 7 p.m.
Wilson at Irvine, 7 p.m.
Charter Oak vs. San Dimas at Northview, 7 p.m.
Azusa at Atascadero, 7 p.m.
Ocean View at St. Lucy’s, 7 p.m.
Hesperia at Bishop Amat, 7 p.m.
Ganesha at Covina, 7 p.m.
Windward at Workman, 7 p.m.
Oaks Christian at Duarte, 7 p.m.
“Bree finally started taking the ball to the basket,” Baumunk said. “Nikki’s going to get her points, but if we can get Bree into the game you have that one-two punch and that’s going to be huge.”
Wheatley helped the Bearcats get off to a quick start, scoring 10 of her 16 points in the first quarter to help the Bearcats to an 18-2 lead.
Wheatley’s so good in fact, it’s hard to tell if Kennedy had a subpar year or if the Bearcats simply didn’t need her production in the post.
“It’s a little bit of both,” Baumunk said. “At the same time it’s her mentally wanting the ball. I think tonight, finally, was a little spurt of wanting the ball inside and going to the basket and going strong.”
Kennedy played her role during the season, protecting the paint, grabbing boards and swatting away shots.
But she sounds ready to be the offensive force Bonita will need as the playoffs continue.
Bonita (25-3) will face either Los Amigos or Glendora in Saturday’s second round at a site to be determined.
“During the season the ball would always be in Nikki’s hands,” Kennedy said. “She would drop in half or points or whatever. But our coach was saying every game we have to get more from our post players, that we’re not going to win and go all the way without our post players.
“During league I was frustrated a lot, I wasn’t getting the ball like I wanted so now I’m demanding the ball more. It’s the playoffs, you got to do what you got to do.”
Kennedy isn’t the only big presence down low.
The Bearcats’ 5-foot-10 senior power forward Sarah Jackson finished with only six points, but she’s been a big force and is capable of dominating inside the paint at times.
“Last year the problem was if we got into a game and they stopped Nikki we were in trouble,” Baumunk said. “Now if we can get Bree more in the mix and Sarah can
continue doing what she’s done lately, it gives a big boost. We need more of that from our post players, you can’t go deep (in the playoffs) without having reliable players in the post.”
South Hills never had a chance, falling behind 39-8 at the half and 55-21 after three quarters before Bonita emptied its bench in the fourth.
South Hills was led by junior Imari Payton’s 11 points and Vanessa Garcia finished with seven.
“For our team it’s about a lack of experience and Bonita being very, very good,” South Hills coach Tiffany Liang said. “We didn’t make CIF last year, this was our first year back. We were nervous and stuff but they’re a good team. They went to the CIF finals and state playoff last year and they’re the number two seed. That’s tough for anyone to go up against.”