Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits 47, Long Beach Millikan Rams 37

I went to this game last night mostly to check out Poly for the first time this season. But I also wanted to see Millikan; Poly is ranked sixth in California on maxpreps and Millikan, 25th. So I figured it would be a good game.

Not quite. But I do now have a feeling for where defending state champions Poly are, personnel and team-wise.

Poly got off to a quick start, with a bucket a piece from guard Brittany Wilson, guard/forward Kelli Thompson and forward Ta’nitra Byrd. Millikan missed their first few shots, turned the ball over and committed a couple fouls. But a long shot by guard Jaslyn Cosey ignited a small Rams run. Another shot and several free throws later, Poly was only up 9-8 at 2:56. Monique Oliver finally hit one for the Jackrabbits, but both teams committed several errors a piece before the end of the quarter; the score was 14-9 Poly.

Cosey and Oliver traded threes to start the second quarter. This was where the game got more physical, but the refs kept things under control. Poly was missing free throws, but Byrd or someone else was always there for the put-back. In fact, Byrd was amazing in the first half, making bank shots and jump shots besides the put-backs. She finished the half with 11 points.

In the meantime, Millikan players kept missing simple, under-the-basket layups. They didn’t look like a top 25 team then, nor in the third quarter. The Jackrabbits begun to run away from their opponents, and the score was 32-16 at halftime. Oliver and Thompson each had six for Poly, and Cosey had eight for Millikan.

The Rams began the second half with a shotclock violation – one of three times they did this during the game. The only thing more amazing was the non-reaction of their coach Lorene Morgan. I would have ripped my squad a new one the first time they pulled that stuff.

Nevertheless, Millikan made a small run, but the Jackrabbits responded. When a Poly player again missed both free throws with 4:02 left in the third, I realized that if this team has a weakness, this is it. They really need to work on their free shots.

Both teams really stepped up their defense at this point, and the last few minutes were a shot-blocking and turnover fest on both sides. Going into the fourth quarter, Poly was up 39-24.

Oliver finally came alive in the last period. She hit one jumper, then scored a three on her team’s next possession. She ended the game with 11 points. For the Rams, it was the Sequoia Hernandez show. A reserve freshman guard, Hernandez had scored three in the first half but roared into the last half and added 10 more points to her total.

With a couple minutes to go, Poly Coach Carl Buggs took out most of the starters and put in reserves, and the Rams made a little run. For several minutes the score had been 46-27, but Millikan players out-hustled the Jackrabbit bench and closed the gap. This showed me Poly’s key weakness, besides the free throws: they aren’t as deep as they used to be. That’s why the score ended up being 47-37.

The Jackrabbits lost April Cook, Janae Perkins, Jasmine Dixon, Nicolette Brown and Morgan Turner to graduation last year. They’ve been replaced with Byrd, a junior transfer from Hawaii, Sheila Boykin, a sophomore transfer from Lynwood, Olivia Montgomery, a freshman, and Tara Burns, a junior whose origin is yet to be determined.

Byrd is the real deal. She’s got great presence under the hoop, and wonderful floor vision. The rest of the newbies are bench players.

Millikan’s Cosey was amazing in the first half, but didn’t score one point in the second. I don’t know if this is typical for her, but I hope not. Hernandez was terrific, but I have no idea if that was atypical for her or if she should be put into the starting lineup. The entire team has potential, but they have a way to go.

Bottom line is that Poly – whose two games that they lost by mid-December equaled their losses for all of the 2007-2008 season – is vulnerable this year.

Celebrity sighting: Cal State Fullerton heir to the throne (assistant coach) Marcia Foster. I saw her at the Redondo Tourney last month and the Fairfax tourney last week. She’s everywhere.