All a basketball coach can ask for early in the season is to see their team make positive strides. To make sure their team is getting better from game to game.

So far, so good for the Sacred Heart Prep girls’ basketball team. With a new coach in Kai Bell, who is returning to Prep following eight years with the boys’ program and the last three working with the Menlo School program, the Gators are having to learn what Bell expects of them and what they can expect from their coach.

The Gators are starting to come to grips with Bell’s style as they put together their best effort of the young season in a 52-29 win over Mills in the championship game of the Kelly Shea Gallo Memorial Tournament Friday night in Millbrae.

“We’re getting closer (to where we want to be),” Bell said.

Mills, on the other hand, took a bit of a step back Friday night. After breezing through a first-round game and battling for a semifinal win, the Vikings struggled against the Gators, hitting just 11 field goals.

“We didn’t play very hard. We played timid,” said Mills head coach Dave Matsu. “That team is very good. Our kids are still learning to play the game.”

SHP (2-2 overall) got off to a slow start, converting just 3 of 16 shot attempts in the first quarter. Despite scoring just 8 points, Bell was encouraged by the fact the Gators were getting the shots they wanted.

“I loved the shots we got early. They just weren’t falling,” Bell said.

After that first period, however, the shots started falling with frightening regularity. The Gators connected on 6 of 10 shots in the second quarter before shooting a blistering 80% (8 for 10) in the third quarter. Even with the reserves playing most of the fourth quarter, SHP still managed to connect on half of their shots (5 for 10).

Over the final three quarters, SHP shot a combined 19 for 30.

And they did it by getting contributions from everyone. Junior center Megan Norris continues to get her basketball legs under her, but she had her best effort of the season Friday night. She finished with a game-high 11 points, to go along with 3 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists.

Grace Florendo added 10 points, which included a pair of 3s. Kennedy Anderson and Denise Stine each added 8 points for the Gators.

“We got a ton of options,” Bell said. “That’s what we’re trying to build.”

Even more important that her points, however, was Stine’s defense. When she is at her best, the senior point guard is hounding the opposing ball handler, forcing the opposition into mistakes and getting the running game going. She came up four steals against the Vikings.

“[Stine’s points] don’t matter at all,” Bell said. “She is the leader on the defensive end. She never stops working.”

And as often as she is the shortest player on the court, she grabs her fair share of rebounds, finishing with 9 rebounds — 5 of then offensive.

While SHP was scoring points in bunches off the fastbreak, Mills simply could not get its running game going. The Vikings would go several minutes at a time without scoring, as they had only 10 points in the first half. When Chloe Tam made 1 of 3 free throws a little more than three minutes into the game, Mills had a 3-2 lead.

They did not score again until the 5:31 mark of the second quarter — a dry spell of seven minutes, 18 seconds.

Mills went nearly seven minutes without a point during a span that bridged the second and third periods. By the time Victoria Williams hit the second of two free throws with 3:36 left in the third, Mills trailed 28-11.

“What hurt was we couldn’t score in transition, which is what we do,” Matsu said. “Our two previous games (both wins) we were seeing transition scoring all the time.”

Williams led the Mills offense with 8 points. Janice Yung added 7.

Half Moon Bay 57, Lowell-SF 52

For a team that will feature, at times, an all-under classmen lineup, the Cougars come-from-behind win over the Cardinals is one that can go a long way toward speeding the team’s improvement.

Trailing by 17 after one quarter, HMB came all the way back to beat Cardinals to take third place at the Kelly Shea Gallo Memorial Tournament.

Half Moon Bay girls' basketball

Half Moon Bay’s Abby Kennedy, left, comes up with a steal and goes in for a layup late in the fourth quarter of the Cougars’ third-place win over Lowell.

Down 21-4 after the opening quarter, the Cougars started chipping away at the deficit over the next two periods. HMB outscored Lowell 23-12 in the second quarter to trail 33-27 at halftime and by the end of the third, HMB was down 2. When Genevieve Belmonte drained her first 3-pointer of the night 30 seconds into the fourth, the comeback was complete as that gave the Cougars their first lead of the night, 42-41.

The Cougars would go on to outscore the Cardinals 18-11 over the final eight minutes to pull out the five-point victory.

HMB head coach Antonio Veloso said he had four freshmen and sophomore playing most of the second half and it was the youngsters that led the Cougars to victory.

“That’s a helluva job by them,” Veloso said.

It was the play of freshman guard Ally Co that fueled the comeback. After scoring just 2 points in the first quarter, she erupted for 10 in the second as she went on to finish with 17 points. Abby Kennedy, a sophomore added 12 points — 8 coming in the fourth quarter as the Cougars held off the Cardinals down the stretch.

“This is a game, that when you’re in CCS, when you’re down 12, you can come back to (remember) this game,” Veloso said.

Co’s play helped offset a huge night from Lowell’s Elle Ladine. The sophomore guard went off for 29 points, 19 of which came in the first two quarters. She also grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds.

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