LAFAYETTE — Liz Russell's Centaurus Warriors are in a unique position down the stretch of this remarkable 2015-16 season.
It has been a while since they could simply walk into the gym and confidently know they were going to win the game.
But instead of an overconfident air about them, the Warriors take opportunities like the one Thursday night against Northridge to fine tune little things as they gear up for a postseason run.
"That is exactly how we approach it," Russell said. "Those defense we ran the entire second half are one we have barely practiced at all. So it was nice to have to opportunity to try it, see how it looks and what we have to work on.
"We have the luxury of four practices in a row, which is perfect for us."
Centaurus (17-3 overall, 8-3 in the Northern League) rolled past the Grizzlies 45-20 and don't take the court again until next Wednesday against Niwot.
The Warriors scored the first 14 points of the game and were up 18-2 after one quarter against a Northridge team (7-14, 2-10) that is struggling to find any traction within the league.
Brooke Jones and Linsi Calvo each knocked down big baskets and the Warriors freshman starting duo of Helen Gover and Morgan Negrey also chipped in.
"Being able to be fast and smart defensively, because getting in to foul trouble is the last thing we want to do," said Russell, who added that her team needs to learn how to guard the opposition's bigger girls more efficiently. "We also need to learn how to keep the pressure on without getting into foul trouble. That has been one of our bigger struggles this year, especially in that loss to Silver Creek."
And the shots that were dropping early in the season for the Warriors have gone away. A creative offense that is predicated on speed and off-the-ball movement has no trouble finding open looks, it's a matter of knocking down those looks.
And for a brief spell on Thursday night, it flowed with flawless proficiency. A nifty 11-0 run in the middle of the second quarter was the best basketball they played all night. Jones and Gover were again the central figures in the run against a rare 2-3 zone defense employed by the Grizzlies.
"We've got it, we've just got to figure out how to do it in a game," said Russell, who was led by Jones's 14 points and Gover's 12.
Centaurus is now in uncharted territory, knowing the importance of every game, whether its against a quality opponent of a team just playing out the string. The key for Russell and her staff is to keep their girls from getting ahead of themselves and guarding against the aforementioned overconfidence.
"We always say, especially in games like this, hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard," Russell said. "We've been able to play one quarter or two quarters, maybe three sometimes, but we struggle to put together four quarters.
"And they do tend to get a little cocky. Any team is going to get cocky when they are up 32-9 at halftime. But we have to use that as an opportunity to get better."
Northridge sophomore Avery Schumann led the Grizzlies with seven points.
Centaurus 45, Northridge 20
NORTHRIDGE (7-14, 2-10)
Gabby Garcia 0 2-2 2, Kyla Beck 1 2-2 4, Jodi Shea 0 0-4 0, Kendall Haffner 1 0-3 2, Brittany Frank 1 0-0 2, Kaitlyn Vasquez 0 1-2 1, Logan Davidson 1 0-3 2, Avery Schumann 1 5-6 7. Totals 5 10-22 20.
CENTAURUS (17-3, 8-3)
Helen Gover 5 0-0 12, Brooke Calvo 0 0-0 0, Moniphon Xiong 0 0-0 0, Brooke Jones 6 2-5 14, Morgan Negrey 2 2-2 6, Maggie Reed 0 0-0 0, Linsi Calvo 3 0-0 6, Imani Licata-Becerril 1 0-0 2, Kayla Visscher 0 0-0 0, Rachel Koeller 0 0-0 0, Natalie Gofran 2 1-2 5, Faith West 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 5-9 45.
Score by quarters:Northridge 2 7 5 6 — 20
Centaurus 18 14 7 6 — 45
3-point field goals — Northridge (0): None; Centaurus (2): Gover 2. Total fouls — Northridge 12; Centaurus 20.