Harvard-Westlake Holds Off Bell-Jeff!

January 18, 2011 by  

Natalie Florescu knew her friends on the Bell-Jeff girls’ basketball team wanted redemption following three losses last year to Harvard-Westlake, including the Div. IV state regional quarterfinals.

Instead, her pre-game conversation only added more motivation for her and the Wolverines to maintain their home-court winning streak as well as their edge in the local rivalry.

Florescu responded with 18 points — 14 in the second half — and Esther Lee added 15 points, with the duo combining for eight 3-pointers to offset a 26-point, 14-rebound effort by Bell-Jeff’s Jasmine Smith in a 61-55 nonleague win Saturday.

“I knew a lot of them wanted payback for last year, but talking to them before the game, they were too comfortable and I felt disrespected,” said Florescu, who helped the Wolverines win their 22nd consecutive home game.

“We still have a great group, we work hard, we hit shots and we come to play.”

Florescu’s fourth 3-pointer tied the score at 51-51 with 5:13 left, starting a seven-point run by Harvard-Westlake (13-8) that included a layup by Hilary King (10 points) and a pair of free throws from Skylar Tsutsui (11 points). Tsutsui hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final quarter and came up clutch again at the line just like in the Wolverines’ 61-59 win in last year’s state playoffs.

“Bell-Jeff is a great team and we had some great battles last year. But this is a tribute to how hard these kids work,” Wolverines coachMelissa Hearlihy said. “If we hit our 3s, we’re a tough team to beat.”

Harvard-Westlake didn’t make a 3-point field goal in the first quarter and appeared to have trouble overcoming the disappointment from Tuesday’s 51-46 loss at Chaminade — snapping a 13-game Mission League winning streak — as Bell-Jeff built a 17-8 lead.

But the Wolverines responded with a nine-point run in the second quarter and trailed 25-24 at halftime.

“I think there was just a lot of positivity. We never got down on each other or ourselves,” Lee said. “We were all cheering for each other and we kept saying `We can get back in this, we just have to push harder.’ Then Nat started hitting 3s and I was making my 3s and we just played so unselfish and it was great to watch.”

Bell-Jeff (12-6) scored the first six points in both the third and fourth quarters. But with every run, the Wolverines had an answer, especially in the final six minutes, in limiting the Guards to a pair of field goals, both by Rishonda Napier (nine points).

“We know we have the talent, we just need to be mentally focused. We need to get that together,” Smith said. “But it’s all a learning process. Each game we’ve lost, we learn more about ourselves. This was a turning point. It’s a wake-up call for us to get ready for February and March.”

Erik Boal/Staff Writer

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