East Los Angeles College will play in the women's basketball state championship tournament for the fourth time in five years, as the Huskies won a spot in the state's elite eight field with an impressive 78-53 victory over Pasadena in the Southern California semifinals.
They are one of four teams from the South along with four from the North who will vie for the state crown, beginning Friday (March 15) at Ventura College. ELAC (27-6), the third seed from the South, will play Merced (28-3), the North two seed, at 1 p.m. Friday.
"Merced is a mirror-image of us," ELAC Coach Bruce Turner said. "They run-and-gun and shoot a lot of three-point shots just like we do. It's going to be like watching a tennis match with all the back-and-forth action."
The Huskies and Blue Devils will meet for the first time this season.
"They play in a very competitive conference and played against good competition outside of conference," Turner noted about Merced. "I think the teams are evenly matched on paper. But it's a game of adjustments."
The winner will move on to the final four on Saturday with games set for 5 and 7 p.m. The championship game will be played at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.
ELAC defeated an all-too familiar opponent in Pasadena last Saturday. It was the third meeting of the season between the South Coast Conference North Division teams, with the Huskies winning all three.
Moreover, ELAC ended Pasadena's season in the SoCal semifinals for the third time in four years with all four victories coming in the Huskies' gym. ELAC has now won 12 of the past 14 meetings with Pasadena dating back to 2014.
Jaelynn Curley led the Huskies to the victory with 21 points. The sophomore guard from Ganado High School in Arizona has continued her stellar three-point shooting in the playoffs. She made five of nine shots from beyond the arc, including an early bomb from the corner that sparked the Huskies on a 21-6 run that led to a 24-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Pasadena responded with a 9-0 run and pulled to within 27-20 in the second quarter. But the Huskies countered with a 12-0 run and they never looked back.
In the third quarter, ELAC scored the first seven points and built their lead to 21 points. The lead was increased to 27 points by the end of it at 60-33. Pasadena scored 20 points in the fourth quarter, but it was not enough to catch the Huskies.
Besides 21 points, Curley made three steals and dished off two assists, and had two rebounds. Jennifer Pool had an excellent game too. The sophomore guard from Legacy High School scored 18 points and three rebounds and two steals. Zemeris Wallace (Lancaster HS) scored 10 points and had eight rebounds. Adriana Gonzalez (St. Paul HS) scored eight points and had five rebounds and two steals.
Dominique Godbolt (Fairfax HS) had a game-high 12 rebounds and scored seven points. She also had four assists, two steals and two blocks. Jadis Watson (Lancaster HS) had nine rebounds and scored six points.
ELAC converted an outstanding 20 of 23 free throw attempts (87 percent) and made six of 13 three-point shots.
With the loss, Pasadena, which was seeded sixth in SoCal, ended the season 19-11. The Lancers were led by Cosette Balmy with 17 points and Dariel Johnson with 15 points.
In the quarterfinals, ELAC had to rally to beat Cypress, 55-52 March 2 at ELAC. The 14 seed Chargers (20-10) led for most of the game, extending a 32-27 halftime lead into a 46-32 advantage at the end of third period.
But the Huskies responded by dominating the fourth quarter, as they outscored the Chargers, 23-6 in the final 10 minutes. They used a tenacious full-court press that forced Cypress to commit turnovers and rush shots. In fact, the Chargers scored only four points in the game's final eight minutes of play.
Curley and Citlaly Davalos (Legacy HS) dialed long distance to lead the Huskies' comeback with two 3-point baskets. Curley drilled a 3-pointer to start the flurry with her team down by nine points. She nailed another 3-pointer after a steal by Davalos with four minutes left.
Davalos took advantage of a key offensive rebound by Pool and a pass from Curley to sink a 3-pointer that got the Huskies to within 50-48. The Curley-Davalos tandem struck again, with Curley dishing off a pass to Davalos, who hit another shot from beyond the arc.
Gonzalez converted two free throw attempts to put ELAC ahead for the first time in the game, 53-52 with 38 seconds to play.
Cypress ran 31 seconds off the clock on its subsequent possession before committing a turnover. Godbolt made the first of two free throw attempts with six seconds left to add to the lead.
Cypress committed another turnover and Godbolt hit another free throw to close the game.
Besides converting the tying- and go-ahead free throws, Gonzalez also made a pair of layups to score six of her 13 points in the fourth quarter. She also had three of her seven rebounds in the period. Curley matched her with a team high 13 points and also had four rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Watson grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds and had three assists and two steals to go with five points. Pool scored eight points and had four rebounds and two steals. Davalos added five rebounds and three assists.
The Huskies avenged an early season loss to Cypress with the win. ELAC lost to the host Chargers, 77-72 Dec. 1 in the second round of the Cypress Tournament.
– Story and Photo by Mario Villegas