Steven Schuster might not be a wizard and Mike Stuart Gym may not be Oz, but the U-Prep girls basketball team sure knew one thing in Tuesday’s CIF NorCal Division V 70-30 opening round win over Golden Sierra: There’s no place like home.
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After scoring seven second-half points in Saturday’s Northern Section finals loss to West Valley — the No. 1 seed in the NorCal D-V bracket — the fourth-seeded Panthers hit 15 3-pointers and shot 36 percent from the field to run away from a Grizzlies team that showed up 10 minutes before the scheduled 7 p.m. tipoff and played the first half like they were still finding their legs.
“Being at home is huge,” Schuster said. “Just having the comfort level of knowing that it takes five minutes to get here from your house, as well as being in a comfortable environment. It’s tough to travel and get off the bus, especially late.”
Both teams started slow, actually, and the Panthers finally found their stride near the midway mark of the opening quarter, incidentally when Grizzlies leading scorer Rebecca Reed picked up her third foul.
“I think confidence can be contagious,” Schuster said. “Just seeing the ball going in the hoop becomes contagious to kids.
“We had a lot of kids shoot with confidence tonight – we shot with a lot of confidence Saturday, too – but I think to see it go in the hoop a couple of times makes you believe a little more that it’s going in the next time.”
With Reed on the bench, the Panthers found their stroke and sophomore Melanie Lindsey started the scoring barrage with back-to-back 3-pointers, the first off a Kaleia Mizuta assist. Lindsey added two free throws on the next possession and U-Prep had raced to a 12-3, a lead the Panthers would extend to 17-3 at the quarter’s end on five straight points from Mizuta.
And while the U-Prep defense kept the taller Grizzlies from hitting a field goal in the first quarter, the hosts were almost as foul-plagued as Golden Sierra. The No. 13 seed converted on 8-of-16 free throws across the opening two quarters, but couldn’t buy a field goal until there was three minutes remaining in the half. Golden Sierra shot 1-of-27 from the field in the opening 16 minutes.
And after posting 17 first-quarter points, the Panthers nearly matched Saturday’s game total with 21 in the second period on Tuesday.
But the remarkable part is that U-Prep’s scoring came from up and down its roster. Jordan McCoy opened the second quarter with two free throws and Kaitlin Hoy followed up with one of her four triples in posting a game-high 12 points.
“Kaitlin Hoy stepped in, hit four 3s, had 12 points and hasn’t played in three games,” Schuster said. “I think when you see things going well and you get your chance, it helps hide your foul trouble and they didn’t hit their shots to hide theirs.”
McCoy added a bucket, Ashlee Kraft followed with one on her own and Mizuta dropped a 3-ball to boost the U-Prep edge to 29-7. McCoy would hit a 3-pointer, as would sophomores Kailey Briscoe and Ashley Armstrong as the Panthers cruised to a 38-10 lead at intermission.
And though Schuster was mixing and matching his starters and bench players, the Panthers didn’t miss a beat. Lindsey hit another 3-poitner at the 5:10 mark of the third off a McCoy assist before Maya Sammut was the beneficiary of an extra pass that gave her an open 10-footer from the left baseline. One minute later Emily Kaney got a dime from sophomore Maggie Barth and the Panthers led 47-13.
U-Prep got the 40-point mark on an Armstrong 3-ball and the Panthers sailed into the next round, where they’ll host No. 5 Calaveras on Thursday after it beat No. 12 Head Royce 45-37 on Tuesday.
“Confidence, intensity, take care of the basketball,” the U-Prep coach said about the goal for playing Calaveras. “They’re going to play with a lot of pressure. I’ve seen them play fast and we’re OK with that, we like to play fast.”
No. 4 U-Prep 70, No. 13 Golden Sierra 30
Golden Sierra (14-13) 3-7-11-9 – 30
U-Prep (21-11) 17-21-18-14 – 70
Grizzlies – Pittman 1, Raychel Reed 1, Nutt 2, Warren 2, Caruthers 2, DeBecker 3, Rebecca Reed 4, Schmitz 6, Kuhl 9.
Panthers – Kaney 2, Briscoe 3, Barth 3, Kraft 4, Sammut 4, Brown 5, Armstrong 7, McCoy 9, Mizuta 10, Lindsey 11, Hoy 12.
3-pointers – GS 0; UP – 15: Broscoe, McCoy, Barth, Brown, Armstrong (2), Mizuta (2), Lindsey (3), Hoy (4).
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