Inland Empire and Orange County: Canyon Springs 63, Brea Olinda 53

BREA – Biggest win ever.

That was the only proper description of Canyon Springs’ decisive 63-53 victory Saturday over Brea Olinda, the No. 3 ranked girls team in the nation, in the semifinals of the Southern California Regional Championships.

It wasn’t even the fact that third-seeded Canyon Springs won, but the manner in which they did it, and where they did it.

The Cougars (30-3) went into the Brea gym and outplayed the second-seeded Ladycats (31-2), who have won nine state championships. They outplayed Brea in every facet.

Just as impressively, teams don’t win at Brea. It just doesn't happen. But this one wasn’t even close. Canyon Springs led by 17 points at one point in the fourth quarter.

Junior Jasmine Johnson scored 20 points. Freshman Cheyenne Greenhouse scored 17, more than twice her average. And Nebraska-bound Tear’a Laudermill scored 15 but just as important controlled the game against Brea, which until last week’s loss to second-ranked Mater Dei had been the No. 1 team in the nation.

Under Laudermill's guidance, the Cougars committed only nine turnovers. Brea committed 16 with some of its worst passing of the season.

Even though Canyon Springs won a Southern Section title in 2005 during the Jennifer Risper era, the victory Saturday far exceeded it. The Cougars avenged a 55-36 loss in the section semifinals, a game in which coach Gail Hale thought her team was overpowered by the arena environment.

This time, though, they simply overpowered Brea.

“We looked at films and said if you start doing this stuff right, you got this game,” Hale said.

Canyon Springs did stuff right all night, with the exception of using the clock in the fourth quarter, but the lead was so big even that didn’t hurt them.

With its victory, the Cougars will play Mater Dei, a 59-39 winner over Narbonne, next Saturday at the Galen Center for the opportunity to play for a state championship the following weekend in Sacramento. Mater Dei (32-1) is now ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Canyon Springs put together the necessary runs all night to forge its upset. An 8-0 run in the first quarter provided a 9-4 lead. An 11-2 run in the latter stages of the second quarter made it 30-19, and a drive by Laudermill with 10 seconds left gave the Cougars a 33-21 halftime lead. Brea didn’t score more than four consecutive points in the first three quarters.

“This started when we lost in the playoffs,” Laudermill said. “As a result of losing, we had to build up ore confidence. Had to take it to them.”

It wasn’t until the final three minutes that Brea scored as many as five consecutive points and that cut the deficit to 59-48.

Holding a 49-36 lead going into the fourth quarter, Brea got consecutive baskets from Justine Hartman—who had scored only two points in the first three quarters—and Keitra Wallace to make it 49-40, but Canyon Springs scored the next eight points with Laudermill scoring six of them. That gave the Cougars a 17-point lead with 3-1/2 minutes remaining. Brea hadn’t scored more than 15 in any of the previous three quarters.

“We couldn’t defend, we couldn’t keep them from scoring on us,” said Hartman, who scored eight in her final game before embarking on a career at UCLA. “We couldn’t pass, we weren’t in our rhythm. We were off our game. I was off my game, for sure. Couldn’t hit a shot.”

Brea made only 21 of 65 shot attempts.

“We didn’t expect their role players to step up the way they did,” said Brea coach Jeff Sink. “They played as hard as we did, and that’s unusual for teams to do that, and they were more effective.”

Jeanier Olukemi scored 16 and Wallace had 12 for Brea, which lost two of its last four games after going undefeated for three months.

“We beat every No. 1 team in the country, maybe we ran out of gas,” Sink said. “If peaking is part of the game, we didn’t peak at the right time.”