RANCHO CUCAMONGA — Etiwanda girls basketball coach Stan Delus put his players through a rigorous week of practice.
And for good reason.
“We are the defending state champions and have a big target on our back right now,” said Delus, whose team is ranked No. 4 in the nation by Maxpreps.com. “We are going to get everybody’s best shot because they have nothing to lose.”
And those intense practices over the past week yielded some quick dividends, as Etiwanda looked extremely sharp throughout its 90-38 victory over Centennial in Saturday’s CIF Southern Section Open Division pool-play game. The No. 2-seeded Eagles began the night with a 22-1 run over the first 4 1/2 minutes and slammed the door shut with an 18-0 to start the second half.
McDonald’s All-American Kennedy Smith finished with a game-high 27 points, 18 of those coming in the third quarter. Junior Grace Knox, the other half of Etiwanda’s “Twin Towers,” registered a double-double with 25 points and 16 rebounds.
Smith (6-foot-1) and Knox (6-foot-3) are match-up nightmares for opposing teams. That duo can score at will inside the paint because of their size, but both players possess a deadly mid-range jumper and also can step outs and knock down 3-pointers.
Etiwanda (26-3) made 60 percent of its shots Saturday, with Smith and Knox combining to go 21 of 28 from the field.
“That versatility has been a tremendous asset, because a lot of teams we play are either smaller than us or don’t have the bigs who can guard us on the perimeter,” said Smith, the two-time reigning IE Varsity Player of the Year.
“It’s a blessing to have players like them who can play in multiple spots,” Delus said. “We can be more creative with our offense.”
Knox is a transfer from Spring Valley High School in Las Vegas whose role in the offense seems to grow every week. She described the team’s practices over the past few days.
“It’s that time for us to work on those things we need to work on and get locked in,” Knox said. “We’re trying to condition heavily so we can wear down other teams but also be at our strongest at the end of the games. We’re up for those challenges.”
Etiwanda applied defensive pressure from the start Saturday. Centennial (19-11) turned the ball over five times in the first four minutes of the game. and the Huskies made only 1 of 14 shots from the field in the opening quarter.
At the other end, Etiwanda made 11 of 14 shots in that period, including seven straight over a two-minute stretch. Smith and Aliyahna “Puff” Morris each scored nine points in the quarter, and Arynn Finley added eight more points for the Eagles.
Centennial made only 9 of 45 shots in the game, but the Huskies continued to attack the basket and draw some fouls. The Huskies made 19 of their 26 attempts at the free-throw line, including an 11-for-14 effort from Tierra Taylor.
Etiwanda made only one basket over the final three minutes of the half but still held a 48-17 lead at intermission.
The Eagles switched to a diamond press and once again created havoc for Centennialat the start of the second half. Etiwanda forced seven turnovers during the third period and also outscored the Huskies 34-16 to put the game away. Smith scored 13 points during that 18-0 blitz to start the second half, including the final 11 points of that run.
“I think the pressure really started to get to them (the Huskies), and we got a lot of steals and easy buckets,” Smith said.
Morris made 6 of 9 shots and finished with 13 points. Finley also scored 13 points and drained three 3-pointers.
Taylor and Aniyah Offutt scored 11 points apiece to lead the way for Centennial. Morgan Hawkins added nine points.
Etiwanda will host Bishop Montgomery (Wednesday) and Ontario Christian (Saturday) in its other two pool-play games.
“I told them to be prepared mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually for these next few weeks,” Delus said. “We’re going hard every practice to make sure we’re prepared for every shots we’re going to take. I’m proud because they are up to the task.”
Centennial will play at Ontario Christian (Wednesday) and at Bishop Montgomery (Saturday) to wrap up pool play.