Saturday’s Division 1AA Final at Azusa Pacific University
Bonita vs. Long Beach Millikan, Noon
By Stephen Ramirez, @SteveRRamirez on Twitter
TEMECULA — Kandyce Smith was expected to be the difference maker for the Bonita High School girls basketball team when the she transferred from La Salle to the La Verne school before the season.
The senior guard lived up to the billing Tuesday night.
Smith scored a game-high 22 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter and the Bearcats advanced to the CIF-Southern Section 1AA finals with a 56-49 victory over host Great Oak in a semifinal game.
Bonita, also getting 12 points from Nikki Wheatley and nine from Ariana Abo, improved to 27-2 and will face Long Beach Millikan, which beat Brea Olinda, in Saturday’s championship game at noon at Azusa Pacific University.
Great Oak, getting 15 points from Abbey Welch, slipped to 22-4.
Smith, who scored 15 points in the second half to help the Bearcats rally back from a 24-19 deficit after two quarters, gave Bonita 43-38 lead early in the fourth quarter after hitting a 3-pointer at 6:52 and a 14-foot jumper at 6:09.
The senior, after Great Oak closed to within 45-43 following an inside by Cheldon Alcantara and 3-point play by Welch, pushed the lead back to five points on a 3-pointer for a 49-44 advantage with 2:08 to play.
Smith and Abo then combined on seven of eight free throws down the stretch to seal it.
Bonita coach Darren Baumunk: “It was key to see Kandyce get her confidence and get some shots in the fourth quarter. She needed the confidence. If we can get that confidence from her, and Nikki and Ari and Cassie and the rest of the girls on the team, it’s only going to make us a better team for the next game. It’s nice to get back (to the title game). But like I told all our girls after the game, we didn’t come all this way just to get to the title game. We have one more game to win.”
Kandyce Smith: “I knew I had to step up for my team, because Nikki was struggling a little bit. I knew I had to come and step up. This was a great game. We knew we had to come out strong to pull it out, and we stepped up tonight.”
Nikki Wheatley: “Kandyce is definitely a difference maker for us, because they can’t key in on me. They were trying to pressure me, but Kandyce took over. She hit her shots, and they couldn’t do anything about it.”