The Guards are again in the quarterfinal round in this year's playoffs, despite moving up to Division III-A. Bell-Jeff will host a 7 p.m. game today against Antelope Valley.
The No. 4-seeded Guards (21-6) are coming off a regular season in which they captured their fourth straight Santa Cruz League championship. The Lopes (24-5) — the No. 5 seed — are champions of the Golden League.
Bell-Jeff, which advanced to the IVA Division semifinals last season, losing to Windward, 61-57, has been able to breeze through this year's playoffs. The Guards began the postseason with an 84-36 victory against La Habra and followed that up with a 72-29 win Saturday against Northwood.
Antelope Valley also had an easy first-round win, getting by Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, 53-39. However, the team had to battle Saturday to earn a 66-53 victory against Monrovia.
The Lopes have an accomplished scoring duo in juniors Destini Price and Keiona Mathews, who both average close to 13 points a game.
"They are a run-and-gun type of team," Bell-Jeff Coach Jaclyn Johnson said. "They are very athletic and they like to get up and down the court. It is going to be a challenge for us."
Bell-Jeff counters with a talented group of athletes. Along with University-of-Arizona-bound Layana White, a senior, juniors Johnese Miller, Rishonda Napier, Jasmine Smith and Kiah Jones and sophomore Leslie Lopez-Wood give the team depth.
The players have been able to thrive under the first-year tutelage of Johnson, a former Bell-Jeff standout. Johnson said playing tough defense has been a key to her team's success.
"We have to play our kind of defensive game; that's how we win games," Johnson said. "Also, I know [Antelope Valley] is going to come with the pressure, and we have to be ready."
Napier and Smith, along with senior Janelle Gabb and junior Averie Guzman, were members of a Bell-Jeff team that captured a state championship in 2009.
"The girls have really showed a great deal of strength this season, and they have stayed together as a team," Johnson said.
"We are playing really well right now. I think we're playing our best basketball of the season."
The Guards and Lopes have played a number of like teams this season. Among others, Bell-Jeff lost to Harvard-Westlake, 61-55, a team Antelope Valley defeated, 55-43. However, against Sierra Canyon, the Guards won easily, 60-47, while the Lopes got a win (60-51) against the Trailblazers, and also lost to them (57-45).