LA CANADA -- At halftime of her team's home playoff game Wednesday night, La Canada High girls' basketball Coach Tamar Hill waited a good three minutes before joining her Spartans in the locker room.
She looked at stats. She talked with assistants.
"We had worked so much on the press break," Hill said. "I knew we knew it better than what we we're doing. I just wanted them to collect themselves. I didn't want to go in there and get mad at them, because I knew they knew what to do."
That they did, as the third-seeded Spartans rallied from 14 points down to defeat Santa Margarita, 53-47, in the CIF Southern Section Division 3-A quarterfinals.
After an ugly first half that saw the Eagles up by as much as 14 point late in the second quarter and 27-15 at the break, the Spartans came out a different team for the third period. Behind a pair of three-pointers from both Courtney Chen and Keilee Bessho, La Canada (20-8) outscored its opponents in the third frame, 22-7, to go up, 37-34.
La Canada would never look back.
The Spartans found success where failure had once resided. The Eagles' press defense gave the team fits in the first half, but the Spartans broke it in the second.
"The key was to break the press, because then we could slow the game to our pace," Hill said.
Chen, who finished with 19 points, said that the key was as simple as being patient.
"I think we were just rushing it a little bit," Chen said. "We just needed to settle down, get everybody involved, trust everybody, play as a team. I think we did that."
La Canada enjoyed continued success in the fourth period, going up by as much as 45-34 en route to victory.
The Spartans benefited from big contributions off the bench. Amber Graves scored 10 points, all in the second half and Aundrea Issakhanian added nine points, with eight in the second quarter.
"Aundrea saved us in the first half," Hill said. "When she came off in the second quarter and did that, it was just enough to keep us where we needed to be."
Bessho finished with 10 points and Lauren Barsamian pulled down six rebounds despite battling an injured rib.
"What more can you ask?" Hill said. "They were down at the half. They didn't go into a shell. They came out and came alive. I'm just proud of them."
Zaier Williams scored 15 points for Santa Margarita.