It continues to be nearly the same story any time the Santa Barbara High girls basketball team takes the court.
The team struggles in the first half, whether it be with scoring or turning the ball over, but in the second half, it figures out exactly what needs to be done in order to secure the win.
Such was the case Tuesday night inside JR Richards Gymnasium between Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos.
Tied at 15-all after the first half of play, junior guard Athena Saragoza took over in the second half, scoring 19 of her game-high 25 points and leading the Dons to a 44-31 victory over their crosstown rival Chargers.
“The zone is a puzzle unlike anything else in basketball and you have to solve that puzzle and we didn’t solve it until the second half,” Santa Barbara coach Andrew Butcher said.
“I give DP credit, they play a tough zone and you have to figure out what they are doing, so we are really happy to come out of this one with a win. Any league game is tough so I am glad this one was at home.”
As Butcher alluded to, the first half was not a pretty one for the Dons.
After the first quarter, Santa Barbara trailed Dos Pueblos (14-5, 2-3) 9-3. Saragoza made the Dons’ only basket of the first period with Maya Banks adding a free throw. Overall, Santa Barbara was 1-for-17 from the field in the first eight minutes of play.
As for the Chargers, their offense was not fairing much better, but baskets from Ashley Gerken, Ava Sommer and Sadie Subject had DP up 6-3 early.
Then, a newcomer came into the game for the Chargers and made a big play.
Junior guard Miracle Millinghaus logged the first minutes of her career for DP on Tuesday. A transfer from New York, Millinghaus had to wait until after winter break to play in a game.
She made the most of her opportunity Tuesday, especially in the first quarter, knocking down a trey right in front of a defender after some slick moves with the basketball to give Dos Pueblos a 9-3 first-quarter lead.
“She loves basketball and she is always playing and practicing it and it was nice to see her on the court and play well,” DP assistant coach Mike Gerken said.
In the second quarter, the Dons managed to fight through the zone a bit better, scoring 12 points in the frame.
Additionally, Santa Barbara’s defense forced six turnovers in the second period alone, allowing the team to catch DP and tie the game at 15-all come the halftime break.
In the third quarter, it became the Saragoza show, one that regular visitors of JR Richards Gym are usually treated to.
Saragoza opened up the frame with a three from the top of the key to give Santa Barbara its first lead since the first quarter.
Later, after Gerken nailed a three from the corner to keep the Chargers within two at 22-20, Saragoza pulled up for a jumper and it rattled around for a score.
The junior would follow that up with a three from the corner and then another driving layup to push the Dons lead to 29-20.
“Athena is a dynamic player. We knew that we had to key on her, and we did a better job of it in the first half, but she’s crafty and she really understands basketball and where to get her shot and there are some plays that we thought that we were in very good defensive positioning and she just made a great play. She’s a great player,” Gerken said.
A basket from Millinghaus before the end of the third, as well as one to start the fourth, brought the Chargers back within five.
The Dons, however, ended the game on a 15-7 run over the final seven minutes, with seven points coming from Saragoza, to earn the 13-point home victory.
While it was Saragoza doing the scoring, there were plenty of other players that were instrumental in the win.
Banks, for example, the Dons’ senior forward, scored seven points on 2-for-4 shooting and also collected 10 rebounds and even added three assists.
“She was kind of our player of the game I thought because she played great defense against a really good player, she rebounded, she found the open player, she hit big shots, she was great,” Butcher said.
For Banks, every game she knows she will be grinding throughout, but embraces the challenge.
“I just try to go out there and do my best and do what I do best, rebound and help in other ways other than scoring,” Banks said.
Most nights, Banks is not the tallest player on the court but she usually is the one with the most rebounds come the end of the night.
“It’s tough sometimes but I just have to use my strength and know like I can get the board,” Banks said.
Being just one of three seniors on the team, Banks is not only a leader but understands what is needed from her on a nightly basis.
She might not be flashy, but she certainly gets the job done.
“Being a senior, I understand more what my role is since I’ve been here for so long on varsity so, it just kind of comes to me. I just know what I have to do and I just go out there and do it,” Banks said.
“All I want of this senior season is my best. I just want to go out there and leave it all on the floor because it is the last time I can do it,” Banks said.
Lucky for Banks, and the rest of the Santa Barbara team, the Dons are likely not a team that will have their season end early.
With the win, Santa Barbara is officially 5-0 in league play, beating every team in the Channel League by an average margin of 13.6 points per game.
It will begin the second go-round of league play Thursday at San Marcos High.
“We’re meshing more and our chemistry is getting better for sure and that helps a lot. It feels great to be 5-0 but I just hope we can continue to do it, keep going and keep the streak alive.
“It’s always tough playing everyone the second time, whether it’s home or away because they want to come out strong and beat you, but I am confident in our team,” Banks said.
For Dos Pueblos, there are still some positives to take away from the loss Tuesday night.
“Last year we got crushed and this year it was like we said in the back of our minds that we were not going to let this happen again and it was that intensity that we know we can play with them that helped us play well as a team,” Chargers sophomore guard Lily Mires said.
The Chargers defense has also been solid giving up just an average of 43 points per contest and held to its lowest point total so far through Channel League play.
Still, the offense will need to figure some things out averaging 40 points per game.
A win last week against San Marcos made Dos Pueblos playoff eligible, but a top-three finish in the Channel League would solidify its spot in the postseason.
“We need the same mental toughness that we had going into this game fueled us. We know we need a few more wins to get into playoffs and so we’ve all been talking about that. We’re pretty hyped for that because we’ve already beaten two teams that we still have yet to play again so we are excited to try to do it again,” Mires said.
DP opens up second round of Channel League play at home versus Santa Ynez.