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Guards on familiar playoff path

Bell-Jeff is in quarterfinals once again, as it will take on Antelope Valley in a home game.

February 23, 2011|By Jeff Tully, jeff.tully@latimes.com

BELLARMINE-JEFFERSON HIGH — Been there, done that.

With the success of Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls' basketball in recent years, making it to the CIF Southern Section quarterfinals is almost expected.

The Guards have advanced to the playoff semifinals for three years straight, and the last time the program failed to get past the quarterfinals was in 2007, when Bell-Jeff lost to Santa Ana Calvary Chapel, 59-42.

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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).

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