One routine change in tactics turned everything around for the Bakersfield High girls basketball team on Thursday night.
After switching from a man-to-man to a zone defense at halftime, the Drillers quickly erased a three-point deficit and then went on to beat Independence 51-37 in opening day action of the Stockdale Holiday Round-Up.
Marissa Jones had 18 points and six steals for the Drillers, who outscored the Falcons 28-11 in the second half.
"I pride myself on playing defense, and we had to buckle down," BHS coach Jimmy Henry said. "By going to a zone, it cut off their penetration. If you look at the first half they shot a lot of free throws and made them."
Both teams came into the contest having won their early games on Thursday with ease.
Independence (7-4) started off strong against the Drillers (7-5), forcing turnovers and scoring in transition as it built a six-point lead with 1:05 remaining in the first quarter.
But a 12-3 third-quarter run, highlighted by eight points in less than two minutes by Kylah McMillon, helped BHS take command.
"I knew we were down and that we needed to pick it up a little bit," McMillon said.
McMillon, one of three freshman starters for the Drillers, finished with 10 points. The Drillers' other two rookies, Zharia McCollum (six points, 10 rebounds) and Kynedy Edwards (four points, eight rebounds), also played key roles in the victory.
Erin Cantrell had 12 points and Ebony Sanders chipped in 11 points and nine rebounds for Independence.
The Drillers out-rebounded the Falcons by a wide margin, leading to numerous fast-break and second-chance scoring opportunities.
BHS also held onto the ball much better than Independence, committing nine fewer turnovers (15-24).
Those two factors led to a wide disparity in shot attempts. The Drillers were 22-of-64 (34-percent) from the field while Independence was 13-of-37 (35-percent).
Things were especially one-sided in the second half as BHS had just three turnovers and the Falcons attempted only 10 shots from the floor.
"We just didn't come out the second half with the same intensity, the same energy," Independence coach Val Mancera said. "We got out-worked for loose balls and rebounds."
Henry wasn't surprised by his team's slow start, noting its youth.
"I think a lot of times we get rattled in the beginning, then once the adrenaline sets out we can focus into what we're supposed to do," he said.
Jones played with focus, scoring 22 points in the Drillers' tournament-opening 62-20 thrashing of Delano.
"Tonight was a totally different mindset from this morning," Jones said. "This morning I knew it was kind of an easy game. And with us being tied (for third place in the SWYL standings) with Independence I just knew we had to come out from the beginning and leave it all out on the court."
The Drillers can clinch first place in Pool B of the holiday tournament with a victory over Porterville-Monache today.
That's when the other two four-team pools, featuring local powers Ridgeview, Stockdale, and Garces, will also be decided.