By RICHARD MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Santa Rosa girls basketball team put on a clinic of fundamentals on Tuesday night in a surprisingly easy 55-39 victory against host Maria Carrillo in an early-season North Bay League game.
“This was definitely one of our better games of the season,” said coach Steve Chisholm of Santa Rosa (10-3, 3-0). “Our game plan going in was to apply a lot of pressure defensively and take Maria Carrillo (7-5, 1-2) out of their rhythm offensively.”
The Santa Rosa game plan worked as drawn up and the Panthers got out of the gate quickly with a 13-0 lead six minutes into the game and never looked back.
“Getting a big lead early, that was huge so we could play the game we like to play up and down the court,” Chisholm said. “We were able to run on them.”
Meanwhile, playing without star guard Aaliyah Sowards — out with an ankle injury — Maria Carrillo languished on offense and had extreme trouble getting its initial bucket in the first quarter. Credit Santa Rosa’s swarming and intense defense for much of the Pumas’ offensive woes.
“We had a lot of missed opportunities,” Maria Carrillo coach Chris Walton said. “We got to the basket but we missed a lot of layups in the first quarter.”
Leading 15-2 at the end of the first quarter, the Panthers were up 24-5 a few minutes later and the route was on. The taller Panthers were tougher on the boards and profited from frequent offensive rebounds.
“Second-chance points were a key (for us),” Chisholm said. “We pretty much controlled the boards.”
Leading 33-14 at halftime, the Pumas outscored Santa Rosa 7-2 in the final minutes of the third quarter to trail 42-27 at the start of the fourth quarter. Any hopes the Pumas had of a miraculous fourth quarter comeback, however, were dashed immediately by the Panthers who broke out to an 11-1 run in the first half of the fourth quarter to ice the contest.
“We played a good balanced game,” Chisholm said. “Defensively we played well and we were clicking offensively.”
The Panthers’ inside strength was a critical component for their success on both sides of the ball. Santa Rosa low-post players Devin Murray (17 points and 11 rebounds), Morgan Bertsch (12 points and nine rebounds), and Alison Wendler (11 points) led the way while last season’s first-team NBL point guard Katie Daly (nine points, eight rebounds, eight steals, seven assists) ran the show from the perimeter for the Panthers.
“Santa Rosa’s bigs can run. They had a lot of second-chance points,” Walton said. “Santa Rosa has a good team. Steve has a solid group of girls.”
Maria Carrillo was led by Vai Thompson with 11 points, but the Pumas never got rolling offensively and seemed to be a little lost without Sowards.
“Without Sowards, it changes the look of Maria Carrillo,” Chisholm said. “Next time we face them, it might be a different story.”