When would a basketball coach consider a 26-point loss a good thing? When the coach’s team is facing its tormentors for a second time in the same season.
In this case, the postseason.
Modesto Christian’s girls (27-4), seeded eighth in the Open Division of the CIF Northern California regional tournament, will take on No. 1 St. Mary’s (30-1) on Friday in Stockton at 7 p.m.
On Jan. 10, the Crusaders fell to the host Rams 92-66 in their annual nonleague meeting. Since 2007, when the teams began meeting annually, St. Mary’s is 7-0, winning by an average of 92-54.
But by those metrics, this year’s 26-point loss, and last year’s 14-point defeat, would indicate that MC is closing the gap. And perhaps these Crusaders, the defending Division III state champs, are better equipped to deal with such a task.
“I wouldn’t say better equipped, just more experienced,” said MC’s Natalie La Tour, a transfer from St. Mary’s who had to sit out last season. “We have a lot of experience, and not many other teams can say that.”
The Rams are ranked No. 1 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 2 in the nation by USA Today, with their lone loss coming to Blackman (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), ranked No. 6 in the USA Today poll, at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix.
In January, the Crusaders trailed by nine at halftime – well within striking distance. Last season, MC led 23-11 after the first eight minutes and 45-40 at the break.
And then it happened.
“We’ve been close the last couple of years, and then they go on a 10-0, 12-0 run, and that’s it,” Crusaders coach Robb Spencer said. “All of a sudden, you’re down by 20, and you can’t recover.”
Are the Crusaders intimidated by the Rams?
“Not intimidated,” said La Tour. “Just frustrated.”
Spencer, who owns a career record of 372-95 (.797), sees no need to scout the Rams at this point.
“We know what they to do, and they know what we do,” said Spencer, in his 14th season as the MC girls coach. “We know we’re going to turn the ball over. We just can’t allow them to
capitalize. And that’s not the norm. They capitalize on mistakes.”
According to St. Mary’s coach Tom Gonzalves, the Rams are only now beginning to hit full stride.
“The good news for us is that we’re completely healthy for the first time in three weeks,” said Gonsalves, also in his 14th year at St. Mary’s, where he has compiled a 394-43 (.902) record.
“And, boy, it’s nice. It makes a big difference.”
Gonsalves has an embarrassment of riches. He has just two seniors on his roster, with five freshmen, including 6-foot-2 Aquira Decosta, who Gonsalves said is a “UConn-type player.” He said he has probably 10 legitimate NCAA Division I college prospects on his roster. The No. 8 player in his rotation, 6-0 junior Sydney Fadal, has verbally committed to Pacific as a junior.
But while that type of roster intimidates most teams, Modesto Christian already has dealt with it. Sure, the Rams’ league opponents deal with them twice each year, but nobody in the Tri-City Athletic League approaches the Crusaders’ quality. St. Mary’s won TCAL contests by an average of 72 points.
“Robb does a great job with his team, and I have all respect in the world for their program,” said Gonsalves. “But there are pros and cons to having played us. Maybe they’ve seen our tempo, but we’ve seen what they try to do against it. It works both ways.
“But we know we’re in for a battle.”
MC point guard Ashley Lucas said the battle might go the Crusaders’ way this time.
“The pressure is all on them,” said Lucas, a senior point guard. “We’re not supposed to win. We’re ready to go out there and leave it all on the floor.”
CIF NorCal Girls Open Division
Friday’s first round (all games 7 p.m)
No. 8 Modesto Christian (27-4) at No. 1 St. Mary’s (30-1)
No. 7 Pinewood (24-3) at No. 2 Miramonte (28-2)
No. 6 St. Ignatius (21-6) vs. No. 3 Salesian (28-3) at Albany H.S.
No. 5 Albany-St. Mary’s (23-8) at No. 4 Sacred Heart Cathedral (17-10)
(Winners advance to Tuesday’s semifinals)
General admission $9
Students (w/card), children and seniors $5