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Girls Basketball

Santa Barbara Falls Short Against No. 4 Vista Murrieta, Ousted From CIF Open Division Playoffs

Dons go 1-2 in elite 16-team bracket; wait for CIF State Regional berth

Cassandra Cordon of Santa Barbara flies into the lane for a shot duing Saturday’s CIF Open Division consolation round quarterfinal game. Click to view larger
Cassandra Cordon of Santa Barbara flies into the lane for a shot duing Saturday’s CIF Open Division consolation round quarterfinal game. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

The J.R. Richards crowd was roaring as it anticipated a storybook ending to Saturday night’s CIF-Southern Section Open Division consolation quarterfinal game between Santa Barbara High and Vista Murrieta.

The Dons cut a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to two with 2.5 seconds and star player Amber Melgoza picked off the inbounds pass at midcourt. She took a few dribbles and released a 35-foot game-winning attempt but it fell short, and the Dons fell 64-62, ending their debut in the elite 16-team double-elimination tournament.

Despite the defeat, Santa Barbara will receive a berth in the CIF State Regionals in 10 days. They’ll be placed in the Division 1 bracket for winning one game in the Open Division, according to coach Andrew Butcher.

After ousting Mater Dei on Thursday, Santa Barbara had its hands full against quick and athletic Vista Murrieta squad.

The Dons (26-4) were outscored 23-14 in the second quarter against the Broncos (27-3), who erased a 19-13 deficit by going on a 14-0 run. Guard Keilanei Cooper keyed the surge with two 3-pointers and a 3-point play. Cal recruit Jaelyn Brown also had a trey during the run. Cooper buried another three and finished with 14 of her team-high 25 points in the quarter, leading Vista Murrieta to a 36-27 halftime lead.

Cooper’s 3-point shooting surprised the Dons.

Amber Melgoza grabs a rebound away from Vista Murrieta’s Keilanei Cooper. Click to view larger
Amber Melgoza grabs a rebound away from Vista Murrieta’s Keilanei Cooper. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

“We wanted to give her some threes and she drilled them,” Butcher said.

Vista Murrieta, which has four Division 1 commits, continued to break down Santa Barbara’s defense in the third quarter and held its nine-point lead, 51-40, going into the fourth quarter.

“Where we really got in trouble was if they don’t shoot the three, they go to the rack,” Butcher said. “We really worked in practice on being at help but we didn’t get the help. When we got the run (in the fourth quarter) we finally got into help. The first quarter we were in help and the last four minutes we were in help. But the middle two quarters and the beginning of the fourth we weren’t. They’re so quick that you have to have help. You can’t play them straight up, they go right they go left. We figured it out a little too late.”

Facing elimination, the Dons dug deep and battled back in the final stanza. Down 58-46, Melgoza scored and Alondra Jimenez and Jada Howard followed with back-to-back 3-pointers to pull Santa Barbara to within four, 58-54, with 4:54 left

Brittney Reed stepped up for Vista Murrieta and scored a couple of baskets for a 62-56 advantage. She finished with 21 points

Santa Barbara countered with a bucket by Jimenez and another by Howard off of Kimberly Gebhardt’s inbounds pass to make a it a two-point game, 60-62 with 1:45 to go.

The Dons missed a shot to tie the score and Cooper drove off a pick for a layup to put the Broncos ahead 64-60.

Santa Barbara almost lost the ball on its next possession, but the Dons scrambled to keep possession and Gordon knocked down a shot to make it 64-62 with 2.5 seconds remaining.

After a Santa Barbara timeout, Vista Murrieta had trouble inbounding the ball. Nasrin Ulel threw the ball across the baseline out-of-bounds area to teammate Sharyah Cotton when an official blew the whistle. There was confusion. After discussions among themselves and with the coaches, the officials let Vista Murrieta inbound the ball again.

Melgoza intercepted a pass at midcourt and had good look on a game-winning 3-point attempt.

But there would be no storybook ending, and Santa Barbara bowed out of the CIF's elite division.

Butcher was pleased how his team battled back and took the No. 4 seeded team down to the wire.

“They’re really good and we’re really good, too,” he said.

Melgoza led the Dons with 26 points and 11 rebounds, and Howard added 14 points and grabbed 11 boards. Sophomores Cassandra Gordon and Jimenez had 10 and 9 points, respectively

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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