Before the season, Long Beach Poly girls basketball coach Carl Buggs said his Jackrabbits would need their returners to carry them through the first month of the season, until their big-name transfers became eligible on Jan. 6th. With Monday night’s Holiday Hardwood Invitational championship game out of the way, he can officially say that they did, as Poly’s seniors boosted them to a 60-50 win over a talented Bishop O’Dowd team.

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As talented as Poly’s freshmen class is, and as talented as the transfers they’ll have going forward are, it was obvious in the third quarter which Jackrabbits had already been through the fire. “And that’s why we rolled with them,” said Buggs, who left his seniors on the floor in the third, which saw his team outscore the Dragons 22-17, their biggest margin in a frame.

Utah-bound Jada Matthews was outstanding, with a team-high 15 points and nine rebounds. She had eight in the third, and made her coaches happy not just with her production, but with the way she scored, hitting from the post, knocking down free throws, and even draining a three-pointer.

“When she can step out and shoot the three, she’s hard to guard,” said Buggs. “Her shots hadn’t ben falling in this tournament, but once the first few went in, you could see her relax.”

“I only hit layups the first two games,” Matthews said. “But today I just forgot about it and let it go, and they started falling.”

Poly won every quarter and mostly controlled the game, although they never really put the Dragons away. They led by two after the first quarter, three after the first quarter, and eight after the third. Bishop O’Dowd never went away, and pulled within five halfway through the fourth, before Matthews, Justyce Dawsson and Tania Lamb salted it away from the line.

Freshman Ayanna Clark got in some foul trouble, but made the most of her time floor, with yet another double-double in her young career, putting up 11 points and 12 rebounds. Arica Carter was another senior involved in the third-quarter run, finishing with 10 points. Matthews was named Tournament MVP after the game.

The Jackrabbits will now have a week and a half to prepare for their Moore League opener, on Jan. 8th against Millikan—when they take the floor, they’ll have another two players with them, as Lahjanna Drummer (ESPN’s No. 8 recruit in the senior class) and Emoni Jackson (signed with Michigan) will be eligible.

“We’ve been building to this moment,” said Matthews. “Now we have everyone, we’re going to be ready to go.”

Buggs said he was pleased with where his team stands entering league play at 9-1, with their lone loss coming to Mater Dei. Poly’s league opener on the 8th will be at Poly at 5 p.m. 

Sports Guy Mike Guardabascio has been writing professionally for a decade, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards and is the author of the historical book "Football in Long Beach."

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