NBL girls basketball: Panthers ride hot start to 59-38 win over Jaguars

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa's Devin Murray, right, attempts a jump shot over Windsor's Jessica Barbosa during Tuesday's NBL semifinal game in Santa Rosa. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Santa Rosa’s Devin Murray, right, attempts a jump shot over Windsor’s Jessica Barbosa, center, during Tuesday’s NBL semifinal game in Santa Rosa. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Santa Rosa coach Steve Chisholm never doubted that his girls could bounce back from last Thursday’s deflating loss to Cardinal Newman.

Less than 12 minutes into the game, the rest of the gym was convinced, too.

Looking focused and fired up, the Panthers sprinted to a 23-6 lead over visiting Windsor in a North Bay League tournament semifinal, and never led by fewer than 15 the rest of the night. Despite a late run by the Jaguars with a number of substitutes on the floor, Santa Rosa walked away with a 59-38 victory.

“We can’t recover from that,” Windsor coach Jeff Paul said of the early deficit. “Our offense has struggled all season long. I was surprised that our defense wasn’t better.”

Next up for the Panthers, a rematch against Newman in the tournament final at SRJC on Saturday.

The game will mean more for Santa Rosa (25-2) than just a chance at revenge. Because the two teams officially tied for the league crown, the winner of Saturday’s game will get that coveted asterisk next to its name in the North Coast Section playoff brackets, making home games more likely.

Perhaps most impressive for the Panthers, they dispatched Windsor (19-8) without star center Morgan Bertsch, who suffered a concussion in the Cardinal Newman game and has not been cleared to play.

Bertsch was not allowed to watch her teammates play Tuesday. She showed up for pregame meetings and whoops, then was ordered to go home and rest. Her mom texted her updates from Santa Rosa High.

The Panthers hardly seemed to miss Bertsch, thanks to a spectacular game by junior Devin Murray. Normally a power forward who has the green light to take outside shots, Murray moved into the post and used a variety of moves and feints to score 26 points, matching her career high.

Chisholm called it Murray’s best game of the season.

“With Morgan out, our focal point was trying to establish Devin inside — and if we could get that going, we hoped it would open up things outside,” Chisholm said. “But it was going so well we just stayed with it.”

Windsor center Jessica Barbosa is a wonderfully gifted athlete at 6 feet, 1 inch, but she is still learning the game. Murray was able to get Barbosa in the air, then drive past her for buckets.

Murray was just as good on the defensive end. The Panthers’ defensive plan was to deny Barbosa the ball, and to collapse on her when she received a pass. They harassed the Portuguese exchange student all night, and Barbosa wound up with just five points.

“Everybody had to do their part in boxing out, because Jessica of course is a force in the post,” Murray said. “Rebounds were the most important part of the game for us.”

Meanwhile, a matchup of perhaps the Redwood Empire’s best point guards was just as spirited as imagined. Windsor’s Kerianne Noonan led her team with 17 points, but had to work hard to get there. Santa Rosa’s Katie Daly applied stellar defense on Noonan, and had 10 points and numerous assists of her own.

The Panthers opened up a commanding 33-14 lead at halftime, then scored the final 12 points of the third quarter to put the game out of reach. Daly sparked the run by attacking for a basket just inside of the 4:00 mark, stealing the inbound pass and immediately scoring again to give Santa Rosa a 47-21 advantage.

Paul is hoping for as high as a No. 3 seed in the NCS Division 2 playoffs. He also knows his Jaguars sometimes struggle to put points on the board, a potentially fatal flaw.

The Panthers aren’t thinking playoffs yet. They’ve got that last meeting with Cardinal Newman to focus on.

“It’s always fun to get a second chance,” Murray said.

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