Athena Saragoza
Athena Saragoza scored 19 of her game-high 34 in the first half and hit a 32-foot buzzer-beater to give the Dons a 37-36 lead at intermission. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Alexis Whitfield poured in 20 of her 28 points in the second half on Thursday night and Chaminade dominated the second half, 41-23, to spoil the Santa Barbara High’s girls basketball home debut in the first round of the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions at JR Richards Gym.

Whitfield, a 6-2 senior center, has already committed to Washington. She scored 12 points in the third quarter as the Eagles (7-2) pulled away with a 21-8 advantage that gave them a 57-45 lead.

Whitfield was the CIF Player of the Year last year when she helped guide the Eagles to the CIF Division 1 title.

“She works hard all the time and she’s the glue to the team but her greatest talent is she’s a willing pass and that’s great for our 3-point shooters,” said Chaminade coach Megan Kelso. “She’s got a great basketball IQ and she reads the game and what’s best for the team so well. We don’t usually shoot 3’s that well and both teams looked like the [Golden State] Warriors tonight.

“This was obviously one of the best shooting nights we’ve had and it was one of the best teams we’ve played. This was a really good test early on.”

The Eagles drained eight of their 12 3-pointers in the first half. Jasmine Rodriguez collected six 3’s and and scored 23 for Chaminade. The Dons knocked down six of their eight triples in the first 16 minutes and converted 8-13 for the game.

Caia Trimble

Sophomore Caia Trimble tallied 19 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. (Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Athena Saragoza, the Dons’ talented junior guard, scored 19 of her game-high 34 points in the first half. She registered 12 in the second quarter and banked in a 32-foot buzzer-beater from just inside the right hash mark to give the Dons a 37-36 halftime lead.

The Dons pulled within 11 (66-55) when Saragoza nailed her fifth 3-pointer with 4:43 to go in the fourth but that was as close as they would get. Saragoza made 14-of-25 from the field and 5-10 from long range. She scored a season-high 34 for the second straight game and has 100 points (32, 34, 34) in her last three games.

“Our defensive transition was poor in the third quarter,” said Dons coach Andy Butcher. “We didn’t run back on defense and they were getting easier shots than they did in the first half. That kind of fires them up and then their defense gets better. When we’re tired, we still have to run back on defense.”

Caia Trimble, a sophomore guard, added 19 points, four rebounds and three assists for the Dons. Saragoza and Trimble combined to score 53 of their team’s 60 points. Maya Banks led the rebounders with seven and Jaede Spence had six.

“We gave them too many second shots,” said Butcher. “Yeah, they’re bigger than us but you can’t rebound above your head, you have to rebound in front of you and we struggled with that. They shot the ball very well. We’re working on our 1-3-1 zone and when we’d make a mistake, they would thank us.

“I really think that’s going to be a good defense for us because we’re not big but we’re quick and pretty aggressive. It takes away a little of the insides and it should take away the 3’s if we do our slides right.”

The first quarter was a high-paced shootout with Chaminade West Hills making four treys and the Dons hitting three. Santa Barbara took its biggest lead at 34-28 when Saragoza hit an 11-foot bank, Spence drilled a corner 3 and Saragoza nailed a 10-foot floater with 2:31 to play in the second quarter. The Eagles responded with eight straight, including consecutive triples by Julinna Fletes and Rodriguez. That set the stage for Saragoza’s buzzer-beating 3 and a 37-36 halftime lead.

“They’re a terrific shooting team and we knew that 5 (Rodriguez) and 25 (Fletes) were outstanding last year,” noted Butcher. “You don’t want to lose the shooters but a couple of times, there were scrambles for the ball and we’d get suckered in and they’d hit a 3. That’s something we’re going to learn and that’s why we want to be in this tournament, to play better teams.

“Our guards caused some problems tonight. Athena is starting to figure out how to be aggressive and she’s a hard person to guard.”

The Dons will play defending tournament champ Orange Lutheran on Friday in a consolation semifinal at 2 p.m. Christian Brothers of Sacramento defeated Orange Lutheran in Thursday’s late game, 43-27.

Chaminade will battle Christian Brothers in Friday’s first semifinal at 6 p.m. at Santa Barbara High.

In an earlier Gold Division game on Thursday, UCSB commit Alyssa Marin tossed in 27 points, leading Camarillo (10-0) to a 60-56 win over Rolling Hills Prep. Camarillo will take on Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania on Friday in the second semifinal at 8 p.m. Cumberland knocked off Brea Olinda 57-42 on Thursday at San Marcos High.

In the Green Division (round-robin play), Mira Costa edged Arroyo Grande 33-29, Righetti took care of Newbury Park 54-37, San Luis Obispo nipped Del Norte 42-41 and Hueneme defeated Orcutt Academy 58-44.