Joe Davidson

Bruise patrol: Why West Campus girls basketball is a painful pleasure to watch

The West Campus girls basketball team poses after winning the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship on Friday at Pacific.
The West Campus girls basketball team poses after winning the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship on Friday at Pacific. jdavidson@sacbee.com

The bruises, welts and various abrasions dotted across their shoulders, backs and legs are proof of the message mandated by their towering and glowering coach.

Compete. Get on the floor.

For the second consecutive season, the West Campus High School girls basketball team made the playing surface at Spanos Center their personal playground, crashing the boards, crashing into each other and onto the hardwood for loose balls. The smiles didn't emerge until it was over, a thorough 78-52 rout of Lathrop in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship game on Friday afternoon in what coach John Langston expects to be a similar path to last spring.

In 2017, the Warriors of the Sacramento Unified School District parlayed their first section title conquest into a run through the CIF Northern California and state championship rounds, winning both.

"These girls," a spent Langston said Friday, "play so hard all the time. It's all about defense, and that creates offense and wins. I tell them if they can do this in basketball, they can do this in life."

The Warriors (24-7) were led by their trio of stars. Gabby Rones, the sophomore point guard, had a game-high 25 points. UCLA-bound guard Kiara Jefferson scored 17 of her 22 in the first half to set a blistering pace as she showed that she's every bit as good as her national profile. And Cal State Bakersfield-bound guard Nia Johnson had 15 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.

Johnson took an extra moment to collect her bearings after a spill in the fourth quarter and then gingerly walked off the floor. The three leaders compared bruises and winced when they touched them, followed by grins.

"We know it's all about defense, and that's what we do," Jefferson said.

Jefferson said she will study psychology at UCLA, and when asked to assess the mood and esteem of her team, she beamed in saying, "It's healthy!"

Myani Thornton led Lathrop (23-6) with 15 points. Lathrop and West Campus will advance to the CIF NorCal Regionals that start next week.

Langston said the Warriors took it personally that they earned only a No. 3 sectional seed despite stout pedigree. The team's lone local losses this season were to Bee top-ranked Folsom in a nonleague game, 62-26, shortly after a 61-49 triumph of Bee preseason No. 1 McClatchy.

The other local loss was to Bee No. 2 Sacramento, 60-53. The other setbacks were to out-of-area or out-of-state powers, be it from Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, the Bay Area or Southern California.

"We won state, NorCal and section last season and had this schedule, and the three-seed revved us up," Langston said. "That was disrespectful, and so we said, 'Let's go get 'em.' If we weren't in front, who knows. Maybe we don't play that well, but now we're in front. And we'll continue to be relentless. That's what we do."

Langston said he marvels at how his team of polite scholars by day morphs into bruise collectors come game time.

"They are absolutely the nicest, sweetest girls off the court," Langston said with a laugh. "Then they put the uniforms on and become ball players. They show up."

Johnson said the Folsom loss turned out to be a good one. The Warriors are riding a 16-game winning streak after their brutal early schedule. "Sometimes, winning isn't everything," she said.

"We learned from the Folsom game. We got better."

The only thing that needs work here is the rooting section. There wasn't one for the Warriors at UOP, though Langston said the academic requirements are so fierce on campus that it's difficult to get a rooter bus.

"We know the support is there, and they'll come see us," Jefferson said. Good thing, too. This is a good show.

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