All Ball Sports: Sea Hawk Girls: Wait till next year; NCAA disses UCLA, USC
by Paul Teetor
The high school basketball playoff season is finally over. And after all the ambitious three-point shots were launched, after all the tough rebounds were grabbed in traffic, and after all the sloppy turnovers that resulted in fast breaks had been committed, the last team standing among the local schools – boys or girls — was the Redondo girls basketball team.
They didn’t quite win a state title, but they came oh-so-close when they lost to Los Osos in the CIF State Division 3 Southern California Regional Final at Los Osos High School Tuesday night.
When Los Osos went on to crush Colfax 65-48 Friday night in the State Final, it was hard for Redondo Coach Marcelo Enriquez not to feel like it could have been the Sea Hawks holding the state championship trophy.
“If we had a healthy Chloe Choy, I could see us winning that title game in Sacramento,” Enriquez said. “But handling adversity is part of the process. We overcame a lot of adversity this year, but her loss was a little too much.”
Indeed, the Sea Hawks had already fought their way through serious injury troubles. They stumbled out to a 5-10 start to the season while their superstar center, 6-foot-4 junior Ella Zimmerman, was recovering from a thumb injury.
But once Zimmerman came back and started dominating games once again, the Sea Hawks went 10-0 in the Bay League to win the league title, advanced to the CIF Division 2AA semifinals and then fought their way to the SoCal regional final.
And Choy, the sensational freshman who got better and better as the season went on, was a big part of that success.
“She led our team in assists and was tied for second in scoring,” Enriquez said. “She had an incredible freshman season.”
But she went down in a brutal collision early in a second-round playoff game against El Dorado, and missed the rest of the playoffs with a serious knee injury that had her hobbling around on crutches while yelling encouragement to her teammates.
She was sorely missed during the 60-39 loss to Los Osos in the regional final, a misleading score that did not tell the true story of just how close that back-and-forth championship game actually was.
Feeling comfortable in their own gym, Los Osos raced out to a 9-4 lead at the end of the first quarter behind their own star freshman point guard, Jackie Polk, who scored 24 points.
When Redondo fell behind 12-4 early in the second quarter Enriquez knew he had to call a timeout.
“I tried to regroup the kids and calm them down. They were so nervous they were rushing everything,” he said. “We were missing a lot of shots. Even Ella missed a couple of easy bunnies.”
Whatever he told them, it worked.
The Sea Hawks finished the second quarter on an 8-0 run and completely turned the trajectory of the game in their favor to grab a two-point halftime lead at 21-19.
“Ella hit a couple of mid-range jumpers and the team overall went 6 for 13,” he said. “I felt like we had found our groove.”
When shooting guard Bri Boyd drilled an elbow jumper to double the Sea Hawk lead to 4 points at the start of the third quarter, it looked like Redondo was on its way to the state championship game.
That’s when Los Osos made a major tactical change, switching from the man-to-man defense they had been in all game to a 2-3 zone, with two players out front and three players on the baseline to shadow Zimmerman, who likes to operate in the deep post area.
“They started doubling and tripling Ella wherever she went, trying to prevent her from getting the ball down low,” he said. “Our guards needed to do a better job of getting penetration into the key and making good passes. That was when we missed Chloe tremendously. She’s a great passer.”
Los Osos forced a bunch of turnovers that resulted in layups and won the quarter 23-10 to put the Grizzlies up by 11 points entering the fourth quarter.
“We unraveled from there and never got back into the game,” Enriquez said.
Zimmerman led the Sea Hawks with 19 points and a dozen rebounds while Boyd chipped in with 12 points. No other Sea Hawk scored in double figures.
Redondo’s season ends with a 20-13 record that doesn’t do justice to its final results.
Enriquez has been the Sea Hawk girl’s coach for the last 28 years and says he will keep going as long as he continues to enjoy it.
“It’s been a long run for me, but I plan on coming back next season,” he said. “I enjoy what I do, and I feel blessed to be in this position.”
He guided the Sea Hawks to a state championship in 2018 and just missed another one this year. He thinks his team has a good shot at one next season with a recovered, healthy Choy and both Zimmerman and her younger sister, 6-foot-1 Abby Zimmerman, coming back even better.
“Abby projects as a starter next year if she keeps working on her game, and I truly think Ella will be even better, hard as that is to imagine,” he said. “She’s been working on her three-point shot, and if she can add that to her game that will make her even more dangerous.”
As it is right now, he said, Zimmerman is so good that she is a strong prospect to play Division 1 college ball.
“And she’ll be an even better prospect when she starts taking and making three-pointers,” he said. “Knowing her work ethic, I expect that to happen.”
Bay League teams, take note: next season the best post player in the league will also be an outside threat.
UCLA Dissed; USC Too
The UCLA men’s basketball team won its first PAC-12 regular season title in a decade, had the PAC-12 player of the year in gritty forward Jaime Jaquez, the PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year in junior forward Jaylen Clark, and the PAC-12 Freshman of the Year in tough-as-nails center Adem Bona.
Oh, and they were ranked second in the country as recently as last week.
But none of that was enough to impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, which relegated UCLA to a second seed Sunday afternoon and placed them in the toughest bracket of them all, the West Region.
In other words, the selection committee does not regard them as one of the four best teams in the country. Nobody has offered any kind of official explanation, but the whispers have been growing louder over the last several days: several members of the selection committee are very upset with UCLA and USC for their planned move to the Big Ten next year and the disruptive effect it has already had on college athletics.
So they decided to take out their anger on the local hoops teams.
All Ball is already on record as criticizing the planned move to the Big-10, slamming it as an ill-considered money grab that may help the Bruins and the Trojans make up the current shortfalls in their athletic budgets but will also do incalculable damage to the last remaining shards of integrity in college sports and the long-standing geographical rivalries with schools like Stanford, Cal, Washington and Oregon that have been built up over the last century.
When you factor in the academic, mental and physical stress it will place on the so-called “student athletes” who will now be making multi-day trips to such hot spots as West Lafayette, Indiana and Piscataway, New Jersey it’s just a horrible move all around.
But the NCAA Tournament selection process is not the place to litigate that issue, and it appears that’s exactly what the selection committee has set out to do by punishing the UCLA and USC basketball teams.
UCLA, which clearly deserved the number one seed in the West Regional, now faces a murderer’s row of teams once they get past the cupcakes they will face in the first two rounds.
Assuming they beat 15th seeded UNC Asheville Thursday night and then beat the winner between 7th seeded Northwestern and 10th seeded Boise State Saturday afternoon, the Bruins would have to face third-seeded Gonzaga, assuming the seeds hole up.
With their two best defensive players – Clark and Bona – out with injuries, that’s going to take an all-out effort from start to finish. And if they somehow get past Gonzaga – which beat them two years ago in the semifinals to end their run to the Final Four – they would have to play defending national champion Kansas, again assuming that the seedings hold up.
With a full squad, fiery Coach Mick Cronin could get them through to the Final Four once again. This time, however, Clark is out for the season so it comes down to Bona, the uber-athletic big man who has been a tower of power for the Bruins over the last two months.
If he plays the way he did before he injured his shoulder in the PAC-12 tournament, they have a chance. If he can’t return to form – and he surely will give it the old college try — then they have no chance of getting past both Gonzaga and Kansas.
The road to the Final Four is even tougher for USC, which finished third in the PAC-12 and was rewarded with a tenth seed in the East Region. They play always tough, seventh-seeded Michigan State in the first round, and will be lucky to advance beyond that game which starts Friday morning at 9:15.
In other words, the Trojans could be knocked out of the Big Dance before noon on Friday.
Dear Selection Committee: USC deserved better treatment.