Rebecca Griffin’s two passions are art and basketball. One of her favorite creations is a portrait of herself as a pouting four-year-old, taken from an old photograph. “I must have been mad that day,” Griffin said. Her demeanor on the court is quite different from her expression on that canvas. The pint-sized senior guard and her Santa Barbara High teammates have experienced joie de vivre—a phrase that’s familiar to Griffin, who spent part of her youth in her mother’s native France.
The Dons defeated both Buena and Ventura, the twin powers of the Channel League. They have won 20 games, finished second in the league, and will open the CIF Division 3-A playoffs tonight (Thu., Feb. 18) at home against Paso Robles.
“My freshman year, we couldn’t compete with Buena and Ventura,” said Siondra Pereyra, a senior forward. “We’d get blown out.” It appeared nothing much had changed this season when the Dons lost to Ventura by 25 points at home. Buena came into their gym and jumped out to a 19-2 lead. Then it happened. Led by Griffin and junior forward Tess Emerson, the Dons “turned into a fire-breathing dragon,” coach Andrew Butcher said, and scored a stunning 46-41 comeback victory.
On their return visit to Ventura, the Santa Barbara girls kept it close, trailing by five points in the final minute. Griffin then scored a basket off a steal and hit a three-pointer to tie the score. With 0.7 seconds remaining, Jackie Kerns made a free throw to give the Dons an epic 52-51 victory.
Griffin made the shot of the year in that game—a rainbow from half-court that went through the net as the halftime buzzer sounded. “I don’t understand how she could do that when she’s all of 100 pounds,” Butcher said. Griffin’s size (5’2”) belies her strength. “I love going onto the court, and the other team thinks I can’t do anything because I’m short,” she said. “I’m always the smallest one, but I shoot long-range.”
“She’s amazing,” Pereyra said of Griffin, who leads the team with a 19.7-point scoring average. “She doesn’t just score. She’s great on defense and assists, too.” Kerns, another senior, observed that Griffin has been the hardest-working Don since she joined the varsity squad as a sophomore. Butcher said, “I don’t know if she’s ever missed a day of basketball.”
The Dons ended the regular season at Buena with a shot at their first championship since 1988. The Bulldogs hounded Griffin and held her to a single three-pointer. “If she went to the restroom, they would have gone in there with her,” Butcher said. Emerson had a strong game (13 points, 11 rebounds)—shades of her mother, Holly Ford Emerson, a former CIF Player of the Year. Ivette Gil, a freshman guard, scored 20 points. But Buena prevailed, 49-42.
The Dons, seeded seventh among the 32 teams in their playoff division, hope to keep playing a while longer. Griffin intends to continue her career in college. She figures some school will take a chance on an artist who can shoot from 50 feet and is willing to work every day on her game.
ROYAL CHAMPIONS: San Marcos High’s boys celebrated the Channel League basketball championship after beating Dos Pueblos and Ventura last week. “It’s been pretty magical,” said coach Jarrod Bradley, whose Royals opened the 3-A playoffs on Wednesday night. He credited the student fans for creating an “electric” environment at Maury Halleck Gym and a loud presence at Ventura. On the floor, the Royals have been led by senior guard J.P. Dodson.
GAMES OF THE WEEK: After compiling an almost-perfect record in the regular season (24 wins and one tie), the Santa Barbara boys soccer team kicks off the CIF playoffs with a 3 p.m. game today (Thu., Feb. 18) at Peabody Stadium. … Perfection is the goal of the Dos Pueblos girls water polo team, which took a 27-0 record into the playoffs. The second round is Friday afternoon. Kiley Neushul, the Chargers’ sensational junior attacker, recently appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd.” … SBCC, off to a 5-0 start in men’s volleyball, hosts Irvine Valley on Friday night. … Pink will be the official color at Westmont College on Saturday night, as the Warriors will promote breast cancer research during their basketball double-header against Point Loma Nazarene. … UCSB has lost three straight down-to-the-wire women’s basketball games and will try to succeed against Cal State Fullerton at 2 p.m. on Saturday. … The Gaucho men have the inside track to the Big West regular-season title after a thrilling 64-62 victory over Long Beach State last weekend. Their next home game will be Wednesday, February 24, against Cal State Northridge.