GARDEN GROVE — Rancho Alamitos High School Coach Bob Becker sent a message to his players this week.
Fearing they might get overconfident after opening the Southern Section 3-A girls' basketball playoffs with a 31-point victory, he held the toughest practice of the season Monday.
The strategy apparently worked as the top-seeded Vaqueros raced to another easy victory, beating La Canada, 80-56, in a quarterfinal game Wednesday at Rancho Alamitos. San Dimas (16-6) will be Rancho Alamitos' semifinal opponent on Saturday.
"Our first game was so lopsided, I didn't want the girls to think anything was going to be easy," said Becker of Monday's practice.
But by grabbing a 9-0 lead and continuing to extend the margin until halftime, the Vaqueros (20-3) made Wednesday's victory almost too easy. Such was also the case against St. Paul, when Rancho Alamitos took an early 24-4 lead.
"We're just playing very, very well," said Becker, whose team had a bye in the first round and beat St. Paul, 70-39, in the second. "We're playing our best basketball of the year right now. I really feel like we're peaking,and what better time for it to happen than in the playoffs?"
Rancho Alamitos, using a full-court press that forced La Canada (18-8) into numerous turnovers, had control of the game by the end of the first quarter. Guard Frances Inomata scored seven consecutive points, her only points of the game, to end the quarter and give the Vaqueros a 22-8 lead. The lead kept growing in the second quarter.
Leading by 15 early in the second quarter, Rancho Alamitos scored 11 consecutive points to take its biggest lead of the game, 39-13. The Vaqueros, behind 17 points from Melinda Lira and 16 from Jenny Newsome, led, 50-25, at halftime.
La Canada Coach Sandi Stroud rolled her eyes before trying to explain why her team had 19 turnovers at halftime.
"We just didn't handle the pressure as well as we needed to," she said. "We were our own worst enemy early on. That wasn't the team I'm used to seeing out there. I don't think we've had that many turnovers all season."
Becker attributed the early lead and eventual win to team speed and depth.
"I think I used nine girls in the first quarter and not one let down," he said. "I think the fresh legs had something to do with it. We kept bringing people in and they basically had the same girls out there. We got the momentum going and they couldn't stop it."
The only negative for Rancho Alamitos came in the third quarter, when they made just 2 of 17 shots and were outscored, 16-7.
"We had a letdown," Becker said. "It's hard not to when you're up by 25 at halftime against a team your coach has been saying, 'They're awesome, they're awesome,' about all week."
Newsome, a 5-foot-9 senior, scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead three Rancho Alamitos players in double figures. Lira scored 17 and Anita Stecker added 13 points and 11 rebounds. Eleven players scored for Rancho Alamitos.
Yolanda Davidian led La Canada with 20 points and 18 rebounds, and Laura Klaasen added 15.