Hart Indians girls’ basketball’s recipe for success: tenacious defense and rebounding.
The Indians have had tons of this season as they now register their second five-game win streak after beating their oldest rival, the Canyon Cowboys, 56-47, on the road on Tuesday.
Hart (15-5, 6-0) got out in front early with ease, as the team’s pick-and-roll attack, as well as some extra passing registered a double-digit lead at halftime.
“We want to defend and rebound, period,” said Hart coach Jerry Mike. “Especially against a tough, strong rebounding team and I thought we held our own on the glass. They got us a little bit there on the third but that’s one of their strengths. So we emphasized it, we worked on it and we’re not that, but we got some tough girls inside.”
The Indians drilled three straight 3-pointers in the first half to get some breathing room on the scoreboard. Andrea Aina hit from well past the arc before junior Morgan Mack hit consecutive 3-balls, including one to beat the first-quarter buzzer.
“We had a little flow going on, which was nice. It’s hard to get a flow going here, but we did and we needed all of them,” Mike said. “The girls were ready to go. They were excited, they came out and hit some shots. We kept the floor spaced pretty nicely. I thought we were just a little quicker to the ball than them in the first half.”
Mack led Hart with 20 points, eight rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals.
Aina did most of her damage in the first half, when she scored 10 of her 15 points. The junior Aina hit three shots from the perimeter and has the green light to shoot when open.
“A good shot’s a good shot and Andrea’s been lighting it up all year,” Mack said. “She shoots, if she misses, it doesn’t matter. She’s gotta keep shooting. She has the green light.”
Canyon’s first-half offense was a tad stagnant, with not as much ball movement as coach Jessica Haayer would’ve liked.
“I thought we started the game poorly,” Haayer said. “We just allowed too many things on defense. My expectations for the first half were not met … We haven’t been playing consistently with players in and out. Fear of failure is always a thing. They don’t want to disappoint their coach, but shooting the ball is a great thing, it’s OK if you miss it.”
Cowboys’ senior Josie Regez leads the team in scoring but didn’t hit her first shot until the final possession of the half.
Regez got more aggressive and exploded in the second half, dropping 15 of her team-high 18 points in the latter two quarters. Canyon (10-11, 5-1) turned the game around in the second half, with much stronger energy and extra effort.
The Cowboys rode an 11-1 run back into the game. Senior Aneesa Sayan also added some big shots in the second half and finished with eight points.
One adjustment from Haayer was swapping Regez to guard Mack while putting forward Koko Booker onto Aina on defense. The two Indian scorers slowed down in the second half as the Cowboys charged back into the game.
“The second half was better. We came back from a 15-point deficit and we did way better, but we still didn’t capitalize,” Haayer said. “Layups and free throws win games, and when you don’t shoot well there, you don’t get the result you want.”
Regez hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to four points with a minute to go in the game but Indians point guard Arleigh Eav iced the game with a walk-in layup on the other end.
Eav made a difference all over the court with her 10 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Canyon and Hart have split season series 1-1 for the last five years, a testament to the oldest rivalry in the Santa Clarita Valley. The two teams will play again at least one more time with a regular-season matchup in February. With both programs at new heights in Division 1, the two teams could potentially meet a third time in the CIF playoffs.
The Cowboys will look to keep improving in the second half of league play. Besides Tuesday’s loss, Canyon has won every league game by at least 10 points. No one is counting out the reigning champs just yet but Haayer wants to see her team rally and come together.
“I just want to see us finish strong and play more together,” Haayer said. “I constantly stress that we’re not going to be a great team if you don’t have 13 individuals wanting the same thing. I think we have two essential returners and the rest are new. So we just need to get on the same page and the same mindset of playing for a win.”
Hart now stands alone atop the Foothill League standings as the last undefeated team. The team registered an eight-game win streak earlier this season and is now more than halfway there again as winners of five in a row.
“I think our team chemistry is a huge thing,” Mack said. “Everybody brings the energy on and off the court. As a collective group, we just fight for each other, play for each other and we play hard together.”
The Indians will enter the second half of league play on Friday, with a target on their backs as the top dogs.
“We just have to stay focused and stay determined,” Mike said. “We’re not going to get cocky. We just need to stay as one team and keep working on the little things. We just go one practice at a time and all we’re focusing on now is Valencia.”
Both teams return to their home courts as Hart hosts Valencia, while Canyon takes on Saugus on Friday at 5 p.m.