The Sacred Heart Prep girls’ basketball team got everything it could want in its opening round game of the KSG Memorial Tournament hosted by Mills.
The KSG — the initial of former Mills coach Kelly Shea Gallo, who passed away from breast cancer in 2004 — was always a solid tournament, that started back in 2001. Current Mills head coach Dave Matsu has kept up the tradition.
So when the Gators found themselves in a battle with Lincoln-San Francisco, the Mustangs gave them everything they could handle, eventually holding them off 50-45.
In the end, it was a “perfect” win for SHP: It gave the Gators a taste of high-caliber competition, showed that they could withstand a charge, showed what works and what needs to be worked on, and all done while also pulling out the victory.
Which just happens to be the first varsity career win for SHP’s first-year head coach Kai Bell.
“It’s nice to get that first win under your belt,” Bell said. “But we have a whole lot to work on.”
Fortunately for Bell, he certainly has the talent with which to work. Seven players return from last year’s Nor Cal-qualifying team and all will be counted on to be major contributors this season.
When the Gators are in rhythm, they can be tough to stop. They went on a 12-1 run in the third quarter, turning a 25-21 lead into a 37-22 advantage and threatening to the blow out Lincoln as SHP eventually built its lead to as large as 16 — 41-25.
But those moments of rhythm were few and far between for the Gators, who spent most of the game trying to find a groove.
And that lack of consistency nearly caught up to the Gators in the end. Leading 41-28 going into the fourth, the Mustangs outscored SHP 17-9 over the final eight minutes. When Angelina Jimenez hit a driving baseline layup with 4:14 to play, the Mustangs trailed 45-36.
Kaitlin Yuen followed with back-to-back 3-pointers, cutting the Gators’ advantage to six, 48-42, with 2:03 left.
When Jimenez hit a third consecutive 3 with 31 seconds left, Lincoln was down just three, 48-45.
But Grace Florendo knocked down a pair of free throws with 22 seconds left that gave the Gators the breathing room they needed to close out the Mustangs.
“[Lincoln] did a good job of sticking with it,” Bell said. “It’s a problem not to get them down when we had the chance.”
Charlotte Levison, a wing player entering her fourth season as a varsity started, finished with a team-high 16 points and 10 rebounds for SHP. She showed off her scoring prowess in a number of ways — from down on the block, to scoring off the dribble, as well as the ability to get to the rim and draw the foul. She connected on five field goals and went 6 for 10 from the free-throw line.
It was at the line where the Gators kept the Mustangs in the game, as they converted just 9 of 25 attempts.
Shooting guard Florendo and 6-3 center Megan Norris both added eight points for the Gators. Caroline Barclay had seven, while Kennedy Anderson chipped in with six points.
Bell made a concerted effort to get Norris going in the second half, after missing much of the second quarter with foul trouble. Norris was late in joining the basketball team because she was the starting goaltender for the Gators’ water polo team that advanced to the Northern California championship game.
“She’s still getting her feet wet (playing basketball). Actually, it’s the other way around. She’s trying to find her (basketball) legs,” Bell joked. “When we can get the ball inside … I think we have an advantage.”
Norris was adept on both blocks and also worked the high post well.
“We have to get her going,” Bell said. “She is definitely going to be a [key] for us.”
Neither team got off to particularly strong starts. Florendo gave the Gators their first basket on a 3 from the corner and while Levison scored the last five points of the quarter, the Gators only led 11-8 after the first period.
A Lincoln 3 early in the second got the Mustangs as close as they would get the rest of the game, a one-point deficit, 12-11.
SHP responded with 4-0 run to push back out to a 16-11 advantage. When Barclay buried a 3 with under a minute to play, it gave the Gators a 23-16 lead at halftime.
The third period saw the Mustangs open on a 5-2 run before SHP finally got in gear. Barclay scored on a putback and followed with a layup off the break to push the Gators’ lead to 29-21. Anderson scored on a fastbreak layup of her own and Denise Stine came up with a steal and an uncontested layup for a 33-21 lead with 4:14 left in the third.
After Lincoln made 1 of 2 free throws, Stine scored on another layup and Levison connected on a pair of free throws for a 37-22 Gators’ lead.
Back-to-back buckets on the block from Levison pushed the SHP lead to its largest of the game, 41-25.
“It starts on defense,” Bell said. “We strung together some possessions, on defense, that got the offense going.”
SHP (1-1 overall) will move into one of the semifinal games, where the Gators will face Half Moon Bay (2-0) at 6 p.m. Thursday at Mills. The Cougars beat Pacific Bay Christian 55-24 in their opening-round match.
The other semifinal will feature the Lowell-Eastside College Prep winner against the winner of host Mills and East Palo Alto Academy at 7:30 p.m.