GBK: Dons keep moving forward in CIF State Regional

Sometimes the wisest people say the simplest things and it just makes perfect sense.

After an abysmal 7-for-36 shooting performance in the first half on Saturday, coach Andrew Butcher reminded his players that “you don’t get points for shooting; you get points for making.”

That helped the lid come off the rim just enough for the Santa Barbara High girls basketball team to keep its dream season alive with a 55-43 home win over La Cañada (24-7) in the second round of the CIF State Division 3 Regionals.

The Dons still ended up hitting just 29-percent of their shots on the night, but their full-court press and a new-found resiliency staved off a 23-15 halftime deficit. Santa Barbara (28-5) will host Mt. Miguel on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

CIF STATE BRACKET

“Six weeks ago we wouldn’t have won that game,” said Butcher. “Everybody gets frustrated, but it’s the ones who get frustrated but bounce back that have a chance.”

Sophomore Amber Melgoza scored 20 of her 26 points in the second half and classmate Jada Howard poured in all 13 of hers after the intermission to lead the Dons, who frustrated the Spartans by racking up 17 steals in the game. Melgoza added 14 boards, as did freshman Kimberly Gebhardt.

“Although we were tired and it’s really hot in here, we’ve come so far and we’ve been through all types of games. We knew we had to fight through this,” said Howard, who hit two key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

Butcher felt that his team was rushing shots in the first half and not moving the ball around enough.

“We had no patience at all offensively for two-and-a-half quarters, and then we finally started to move the ball,” he said. “Move the ball, move some people and good things will happen.”

The smallest player on the court carried the heaviest load for La Cañada. Point guard Courtney Chen was a blur for much of the night, dribbling her way through traffic en route to 18 points.

“She’s a tough kid. You know, I heard she was very good and she lived up to everything that they said,” said Butcher.

Missing one starter due to a broken leg and the other due to a trip to Europe with the school band, La Cañada relied on Chen to create shots for herself on offense.

“She was exhausted. I knew at halftime she was gassed,” said coach Tamar Hill.

The fatigue led to struggles from the charity stripe, where Chen was just 2-for-8 in the fourth quarter.

The Spartans came into the game planning to stop Melgoza and Desirea Coleman, and succeeded in that effort for much of the night. Coleman struggled, scoring her only three points on a shot from beyond the arc in the first half.

Chen got a shooter’s bounce on a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left before the break to give the Spartans their 8-point lead at the break. The Dons answered back right away in the third quarter as Howard hit the first of her three treys just 20 seconds in. Melgoza soon followed with a steal and Jocelin Petatan grabbed and offensive board, putting it back in to give the Dons their first lead of the game, 26-25, with 5:50 remaining in the period.

La Cañada saw the lead for the final time on the evening with 4:10 left in the third. Chen single-handedly dribbled through Santa Barbara’s entire defense for a lay-up that made it 28-27 in favor of the visitors. A flurry of Santa Barbara steals followed, however, and Melgoza scored seven straight points down the stretch to fire up the big home crowd. Howard made it a 9-point run to end the quarter with a putback at the 10-second mark.

Chen kept fighting, scoring six straight points for her team as Santa Barbara saw its lead close to four points, 42-38, with 3:30 left in the game. Howard then hit a 3-pointer and the Dons hit their free throws to seal things up down the stretch.

The Dons’ success has translated into the program’s longest season ever.

“We’ve never gone this far, so (at practice) we basically rest and walk-through because they’re just drained,” said Butcher.

He added that he’s not used to it being light outside at the start of a 6 p.m. game, and the Dons don’t seem ready to see the sun set just yet.

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