Led by its defense, the Branham High School girls basketball team has learned to close games well this season.
Case in point: the Bruins games last week, both on the road.
On Feb. 6, Branham went on a 22-3 run to end an important game against Westmont 22-3 with a 50-42 victory. Then on Feb. 8, the Bruins outscored Pioneer 35-14 in the second half for a 60-36 win.
“We’ve got to the point where we don’t freak out anymore. I have a very mature team,” said Branham coach Joshua Lagod, whose team enters this week tied with Westmont for first in the Blossom Valley Athletic League Santa Teresa West standings.
One constant through the Bruins’ six-game winning streak entering this week was its defense. Branham has allowed only 36.8 points per game during that span, and 39.9 for the season
“We are always solid defensively,” Lagod said. “We are playing well at both ends.”
Entering this week, the Bruins last loss was to Westmont, 45-44 on Jan. 18. But Branham avenged that loss on Feb. 6 with its fourth-quarter run.
The Bruins trailed 39-27 with one minute, 38 seconds left in the third quarter. But a defensive change from man-to-man to a zone paid major dividends for Branham, as Westmont scored only three more points in the game.
A key to that run was the play of two sophomore reserves. Sara Jercinovich was a spark plug for her squad, and Payton Scattini hit a big three-pointer in the fourth quarter as part of her seven points. Both players excelled defensively.
Meanwhile, Katarina Knezevic was brilliant, as she scored a team-high 23 points in the game on nine field goals and four free throws. The 6-foot junior also grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds and three steals.
Senior Tori Mok had six points, six rebounds and eight assists in the big victory. Lagod remarked how well Mok and Knezevic executed the pick-and-roll in the game.
“We had contributions from everybody,” said Lagod about the win over Westmont.
Mok came close to a triple-double in the victory over Pioneer. She had six points, nine rebounds and 12 assists.
“I wasn’t even shocked by it. That is what she does,” said Lagod about Mok’s triple-double bid.
Knezevic scored 26 points on 13 field goals, and she had eight rebounds and three steals. Ashley Harris added 13 points, and Macy Wagner added 10 points.
Branham entered this week with a 14-8 overall record and 7-1 mark in the BVAL Santa Teresa West Division.
Before its loss to Branham, Pioneer beat Prospect 48-27 on Feb. 6. The visiting Mustangs took a 16-6 first-quarter lead and outscored the Panthers 26-12 in the second half. Pioneer entered this week with a 7-13 overall mark and 3-5 record in the BVAL Santa Teresa West Division.
Leigh won both of its BVAL Mt. Hamilton Division games last week.
The Longhorns opened last week with a 58-53 double-overtime victory over host Leland on Feb. 6. Leigh outscored the Chargers 7-2 in the second overtime period for the win.
Then Leigh defeated visiting Willow Glen 61-57 on Feb. 8. The Longhorns held a 32-18 halftime advantage in the victory. The Longhorns entered this week with a 9-13 overall record and 2-6 Mt. Hamilton mark.
In addition to the loss to Leigh, Leland fell 55-45 on Feb. 8 to Gunderson. The Chargers entered this week with an 11-11 overall record and 4-4 mark in the BVAL Mt. Hamilton Division.
Branham started this week with a two-game lead in the BVAL Santa Teresa Division with two games to play.
The Bruins extended their winning streak to six games with a 48-29 victory over Oak Grove on Feb. 9. Branham outscored the host Eagles 28-11 in the second half.
Branham also defeated Mt. Pleasant 48-38 on Feb. 7. The key quarter for the Bruins was the second, in which they outscored the Cardinals 17-8. Branham entered this week with an 11-1 record in the Santa Teresa Division and a 14-7 overall mark. Independence and Pioneer were tied for second with marks of 9-3 in the Santa Teresa Division.
Pioneer, which plays Branham on Feb. 14, won both of its games last week. It edged host Oak Grove 44-40 on Feb. 7, then outscored visiting Mt. Pleasant 15-4 in the second quarter on its way to a 75-41 win over the Cardinals on Feb. 9. The Mustangs improved to 15-7 overall with the win over Mt. Pleasant.
Leigh ran its record to 9-1 in its last 10 games entering this week with an 81-66 victory over Evergreen Valley on Feb. 9. The Longhorns outscored the visiting Cougars 39-25 in the second and third quarters combined.
The Longhorns also held a 50-30 lead at the end of the third quarter on its way to a 62-44 win over visiting Sobrato on Feb. 7.
Entering this week, Leigh was in second place in the BVAL Mt. Hamilton Division with a 9-3 record, two games behind Piedmont Hills with two games to play. The Longhorns also had an 11-11 overall mark.
Leland was in third place in the Mt. Hamilton Division entering this week with a 7-5 record (13-9 overall). The Chargers outscored visiting Evergreen Valley 38-19 in the second half for a 71-46 win on Feb. 7. Leland had four players score in double figures – Khalil Simmons (18 points on 8 of 13 shooting), Shane McKnight (15), Sohan Kshirsagar (10) and Joseph Chen (10). Both Fuad Alemu and Michael Esmali grabbed a team-high eight rebounds, and Kshirsagar passed for a team-best five assists.
In a 64-47 home victory over Sobrato on Feb. 9, Leland held a 24-12 first-quarter advantage and a 38-19 halftime lead. Chen led the way for the Chargers with 14 points, followed by McKnight (13) and Kshirsagar (12 on 4-for-8 3-point shooting). McKnight had a team-high seven rebounds and had five assists, as did Kshirsagar.
Leland entered this week on top of the BVAL Santa Teresa Division after two high-scoring victories last week.
The Chargers first shut out Willow Glen 4-0 on Feb. 5. Then they handed Oak Grove a 4-2 loss on Feb. 8. Leland entered this week with a 9-1-2 Santa Teresa Division record and a 13-3-2 overall mark.
In the BVAL Mt. Hamilton Division, Pioneer entered this week with a 5-6-1 division mark and 9-7-1 overall record. The Mustangs were edged 2-1 by Overfelt on Feb. 5, then fell 2-0 to Hill on Feb. 8.
Branham split its games last week to enter this week with a 4-7-1 Mt. Hamilton mark (7-9-1 overall).
The Bruins received goals from Dante Reinoso and Angel Avalos to beat Evergreen Valley 2-0 on Feb. 5. Joel Silva and Ramos passed for assists in the win, and Branham goalkeeper Tanner Lanphear had three saves.
But Prospect, which led the Mt. Hamilton Division entering this week with an 8-2-2 record, shut out Branham 4-0 on Feb. 8.
Leigh lost a pair of games by one goal last week. Hill edged the Longhorns 2-1 on Feb. 5, then host Overfelt scored a second-half goal to beat Leigh 1-0 on Feb. 8. Entering this week, Leigh had a 2-8-1 Mt. Hamilton Division record and 2-12-2 overall mark.
Leigh remained undefeated in BVAL Mt. Hamilton Division action with a tie and a win last week.
The Longhorns received a first-half goal from Anushka Savla off a pass from Alice Barbieri in a 1-1 tie with Leland on Feb. 6. Then Camryn Borg’s first-half goal stood up in a 1-0 win over Piedmont Hills on Feb. 9. Ashley Wallace had an assist on Borg’s game-winning goal.
Leland (4-6-6, 3-4-5 BVAL Mt. Hamilton) fell 2-1 to Pioneer on Feb. 9. The Mustangs also beat Piedmont Hills 2-0 on Feb. 6, as Pioneer improved to 8-1-3 in Mt. Hamilton play and 13-1-4 overall.
Branham received a goal from Clarabelle Walkup and six saves from Lily Muddari-Spencer, but were edged by Willow Glen 2-1 on Feb. 6. Santa Teresa beat the Bruins 5-0 on Feb. 9. Branham entered this week with a 3-16 overall record and 0-12 mark in the Mt. Hamilton Division.