One of the more frustrating games of the season for Garces' girls basketball team brought out the best in Celeste West.
After a slow start, West, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, led the Rams past Liberty 55-31 at home on Friday. West poured in 26 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and blocked seven shots.
"It was fun; I was just having a lot of fun," said West, who even made three steals and hit a couple of outside jump shots. "I feel pretty solid with my game down low, so I've been working on my perimeter game more."
Garces coach Tod Denison wasn't having nearly so much fun when the Rams had to settle for a 22-21 halftime lead. Garces (17-3) missed every outside shot it took in the first half and allowed the Patriots (9-7) to stick around.
"We just played bad in the first half," Denison said. "They got an old-fashioned chewing-out at halftime. There was just no intensity. We looked lethargic, and we needed to change everything."
Kayla Scott hit a 3-pointer on Garces' first second-half possession, and things took off from there. Eventually, the Rams embarked on an 18-2 run that blew the game open. Most of the damage was done in transition or by West on the low block.
"When we're on, we're on," West said. "It helps a lot when we're hitting shots, because then I don't have to run out and back in again and get bumped. It gives us options."
Riley Helgren had 10 points to lead Liberty, which took its only lead of the game, 21-18, with an 8-0 run in the second quarter. Two West layups before halftime gave the Rams back the lead for good.
West was a big part of it, corraling rebounds, drawing fouls, hitting free throws and scoring in a multitude of ways.
West said she has drawn early recruiting attention from a multitude of major college programs, including UCLA, Cal, Stanford, Michigan and Arizona State.
"She can get even better," Denison said. "She attracts a lot of attention. We see multiple double-teams on her every game, and we've got to make teams pay for that. Tonight we couldn't hit a shot in the first half."
Garces, which also received eight points apiece from Chenoa Berumen and Riley Tucker, is the clear favorite in the Central Section Division II bracket, a year after the Rams lost in the final to Erica McCall's Ridgeview team.
But to get to that point, the Rams first must stay focused during a Southeast Yosemite League slate that doesn't figure to challenge them.
"That's the toughest job, is to keep motivation," Denison said. "But they have to do that as players."
If they do, Denison thinks his Rams, ranked No. 8 in the state in Division II by Cal Hi Sports, can play deep into March.
"Valley is the ultimate goal, but we want to go beyond that," Denison said.