West Ranch girls’ basketball advances to quarterfinals 

West Ranch guard Alanna Topete (24) dribbles the ball against Valencia point guard Kaydence Johnson (3) during the second quarter of their game at West Ranch in December. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
West Ranch guard Alanna Topete (24) dribbles the ball against Valencia point guard Kaydence Johnson (3) during the second quarter of their game at West Ranch in December. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
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West Ranch girls’ basketball head coach Paul Gross is really liking the way his Wildcats are playing defense. 

And the timing couldn’t be better. 

The Wildcats (18-12) went on the road on Saturday for the second time in as many playoff games, giving up 10 or fewer points in each quarter on their way to a 46-25 win over the St. Joseph Jesters (14-12) to advance to the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs. 

“The defensive effort was strong both halves,” Gross said in a phone interview. “We were able to really take out their primary scorer and keep it close.” 

Senior Alanna Topete led the way for West Ranch with 18 points, six rebounds and five steals. The Wildcats forced 21 turnovers in the game after forcing 38 in their first-round game. 

“We had completely shut them down,” Gross said. “I thought we were doing a great job of creating turnovers.” 

The Wildcats also saw Aishwarya Sudan chip in with 11 points, nine rebounds and four steals, while Maia Garrison had four points and 10 rebounds and Aubrey Molina had nine points. 

It was a tight game in the first with neither team able to pick up momentum on offense. The Wildcats were able to use their defense to take a 16-7 lead into the half. 

Things started clicking in the third quarter as West Ranch put up 17 points in the frame, extending the lead and never looking back. 

“It was a strong defensive effort through that first half, kind of kept it where we wanted it,” Gross said, “and then the second half, shots started to fall and we kind of pulled away a little bit.” 

The first-half showing on offense wasn’t due to a lack of good shots, Gross said. Instead, it was simply the law of averages that saw the same shots falling through the hoop rather than bouncing out. 

“You’re taking good shots, they eventually start falling,” Gross said. 

The Wildcats now have 18 wins on the season after setting the program record for wins in a season with 17 in their first-round victory over the Patriot Warriors. Both wins came on the road, with another road test coming up on Wednesday as West Ranch travels to Hollywood to take on the Immaculate Heart Pandas (18-9). 

Gross said it’s just luck that his team is playing every game on the road as the Wildcats have lost each coin flip to determine who gets the home game. 

“I’ve kind of used the term road warriors because we’re back on the road again in this round,” Gross said. “We haven’t shot it great, but defense travels. We’ve been playing pretty good defense and that kind of kept us around until things worked.” 

The Wildcats have the edge over the Pandas this season, taking a 49-38 victory during tournament play in December. Both teams have beaten the two common opponents that they’ve both faced this year. 

Gross knows his team is playing well, but he’s looking for the same intensity, if not more, as the Wildcats aim to make the section championship game. 

“The mantra is, ‘Just win one game,’” Gross said. “And then after the first game, we said, ‘Alright, let’s just win one game again.’ And that’s really all we’re trying to do each time.” 

West Ranch and Immaculate Heart are set to tip off at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. 

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