TOC: Sierra Canyon has too many weapons for Dons

Sierra Canyon showed Santa Barbara High why it’s a reigning girls basketball state champion.

Loaded with talent and athletic players, including two returning All-State honorees, the Trailblazers turned up their defensive pressure in the third quarter and pulled away from the Dons, 77-58, in the opening game of the annual Tournament of Champions on Wednesday at J.R. Richards Gym.

Cheyanne Wallace, a 5-11 all-state forward, powered inside for 23 points, 6-2 all-state player Kennedy Burke scored 23 points and cat-quick Zoe Goss tallied 19 points for the defending CIF Division 5 state champions. Wallace also was a force on defense with seven blocked shots, while Burke hauled in 12 rebounds, most of them on the offensive glass.

“We knew they were a good team coming in, but we wanted to limit their second shots, not put them at the foul line and not let them lay it up,” Santa Barbara coach Andrew Butcher said. “We’re not used to playing kids that quick.”

In other opening-day tournament action in the Gold Division, top-seeded Orange Lutheran got 16 points from sophomore Taelor Griffin and held off Buena 51-42; No. 2 seed Ventura routed Pacifica 70-35 behind 15 points from Marki Meyer; San Clemente’s 1-2 scoring punch of Jenna Rodriguez and Jessica Degree combined for 43 points in a 65-53 win over Arroyo Grande; Emily Arellanes tallied 22 points to lead Rosary over Oak Park 52-49; Mica Enriquez’s 11 points led a balanced Redondo Union over Pioneer Valley 60-38; Edison got 11 points from Alyssa Atencio and rolled over Rio Mesa 48-30; Lindsey Tse scored 19 points and Zoe Bohn added 13 to lead Harvard Westlake over Clovis North 58-42

Santa Barbara (7-2) gave Sierra Canyon some trouble in the first half. The Dons did a good job blocking out on rebounds and working the ball around for good shots. Amber Melgoza scored 16 of her 23 points in the first half.

Santa Barbara battled back from a 31-22 deficit in the second quarter and pulled to within one, 37-36, at the 6:03 mark of the third quarter.

But Sierra Canyon (6-0) took over the game at that point by stepping up its defensive pressure. The Trailblazers used a variety of presses to force turnovers, which they converted to points. They went on a 12-0 run to open up a 49-36 lead with a little more than three minutes left in the third quarter.

“They’re a really good team,” Sierra Canyon coach Alicia Komaki said of the Dons. “They’re scrappy for their size; we had a lot of mismatches coming in to this, and they stuck around for a really long period of time, longer than I expected.

“When we pick up our defensive intensity, we usually score from that,” she added. “I think in the third quarter, when we went on a nice little run, we ran a couple of different defenses, we were able to get a couple of stops and they weren’t able to do the things to do the things they were doing in the first half — get offensive rebounds and get to the free-throw line.”

The Dons committed 18 turnovers and Butcher said the team had only 18 defensive boards.

“The offensive boards really hurt us,” he said. “In the first half, we put a body on them, and size wasn’t an issue at all, but when you let them go it’s rough.”

Goss showed off some nifty one-on-one moves to spark a 9-0 run by Sierra Canyon to push its lead to 59-42 in the third quarter.

“They’re outstanding,” Butcher said of the Trail Blazers. “They are things we can definitely do better. I don’t know if we would have won the game, but if we had taken away second shots and not put them on the foul line and cut the drive off better and handle their pressure …. but that’s a lot to ask.”

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