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imperial defense clamps down

February 21, 2002|By RICHARD MYERS

Sports Editor

IMPERIAL — Maybe Imperial High's girls basketball team will start believing it can play defense. And just in time, too.

Limiting visiting Marian Catholic High of San Diego to only six buckets from the field Wednesday, the Tigers rolled to a 54-26 win in the first round of CIF San Diego Section Division IV playoffs.

Next up for Imperial is the No. 1 Division IV team in the state and the defending state champion. The Tigers travel to La Jolla to face The Bishop's School at 7 p.m. Saturday.

"I was teasing our girls before the game," Tigers coach Rich Ponchione said. He told them Imperial was listed as one of the top-ranked defensive teams in the section by a San Diego newspaper. "And my girls told me, ‘But coach, no one else in the Valley can shoot the ball that well.'"

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After Wednesday night, the Tigers finally may realize they do play good defense.

The Crusaders made just one basket from farther than six feet out. Marian sank just one shot from the field in the second half, and had just one point in the fourth quarter.

"I played a match-up zone versus their guards to start the game," Ponchione said. "I think it frustrated them."

In the second half the Tigers switched to a 2-3 defense. "I wanted to try and stop them from driving to the basket," Ponchione explained, adding if the Crusaders started hitting from the outside he would have left the 2-3 zone.

Imperial had been averaging giving up only 39 points a game coming into the contest. Even with the solid effort Wednesday, not every Tiger was convinced.

"I don't think we played that good defense," said Jennifer Stewart. "They drove to the basket too much on us."

Marian tried to take the ball to the hoop, and in the process picked up a few fouls. The Crusaders ended up going to the free-throw line 31 times but sank only 14.

"It's a good thing our offense stepped up," Stewart said.

The 54 points is the most Imperial has scored in awhile, Ponchione admitted.

And one of the stars was Stewart, who came off the bench.

Stewart finished with 10 points. She also had eight rebounds, including six on the defensive end, along with five steals and a blocked shot.

"I was thinking this might be my last game," said Stewart, a senior who did not want to end her prep career on a losing note.

Imperial's brightest star was Alexa Olstowski, who led all scorers with 18 points. She also had six rebounds.

Olstowski had seven points in the third quarter, including three off a trey, as the Tigers put the game away.

Thanks to Jenny Bowlan's six points, Imperial opened a 16-8 first-quarter lead. Four straight points helped the Crusaders close out the first half within seven at 26-19.

Olstowski took charge to open the second half. She scored down low off a pass from Rhea Deal and followed with an eight-footer off a pass from Stephanie Ortega.

Olstowski then fed a pass to Deal under the basket for two points and capped her personal run by burying a three-pointer off another Ortega assist.

Imperial pushed its lead to 39-25 heading into the fourth quarter. With Marian all but shut out offensively down the stretch, the Tigers waltzed to victory.

In addition to Olstowski and Stewart, Imperial got seven points from Ortega, six from both Bowlan and Melissa Gaston, five from Deal and two from Alexis Johnson.

Bowlan was a force on the boards as she pulled down 14, seven at each end. Ortega had four assists and a couple steals.

Serra 62, Calexico 51

SAN DIEGO — Lizeth Lopez scored 27 points Wednesday as Calexico High's girls basketball team lost to Serra High 61-51 in the first round of the CIF San Diego Section Division II playoffs.

Carla Salazar added eight points for the Bulldogs, who finish the season with a 10-14 record.

San Dieguito 57, Southwest 50

ENCINITAS — Southwest High's girls basketball team ended its season Wednesday with a 57-50 loss to San Dieguito Academy.

Ericka Antunez had 14 points and five assists for the Eagles, Denice Rios had 14 points and four assists, and Jessica Conway had nine points and 10 rebounds.

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