1 of 13

Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

Garces High's Celeste West tries to get a good shot off while LIberty's Nikki Bragg is ready on the defense.

2 of 13

Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

Garces High's Rhiana Dougan, left, brings the ball into play while Liberty's Denae Ayala moves in on defense.

3 of 13

Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

Liberty's Riley Helgren fights for the ball with Garces players including Chenoa Berumen, right, Friday in Bakersfield.

4 of 13

Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

Garces High's Rhiana Dougan drives toward the basket while playing against the Liberty High Patriots.

5 of 13

Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

Liberty's Riley Helgren dribbles by Garces High's Kayla Scott Friday at Garces during the first half of the game.

6 of 13

Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

LIberty's NIkki Bragg and Garces High's Kayla Scott get a loose ball before it goes out of bounds Friday at Garces.

7 of 13

Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

Garces High's Rhiana Dougan takes a jump shot while Liberty's Nikki Bragg tries to block the shot along with R'leesha Gooden, under the boards.

8 of 13

Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

Garces High's Kayla Scott makes a quick pass as Liberty's Alexis Adjei, center, and R'leesha Gooden, right, stay close to Scott on the defense Friday.

9 of 13

Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

Liberty's Erin Hardy dribbles around Garces HIgh's stationary Chenoa Berumen Friday at Garces.

10 of 13

Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

Garces High's Rhiana Dougan takes a shot before Liberty's Kennedy Nielson can make the block Friday at Garces.

11 of 13

Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

LIberty's guard Kennedy Nielson brings the ball down court dribbling past her own bench, while Garces High's Celeste West stays close on the defense during game action Friday at Garces.

12 of 13

Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

The Liberty High girls basketball team is lined up for the playing of the National Anthem before playing Friday night in the Garces High gymnasium against Garces.

13 of 13

Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

Garces High's center, Celeste West works her way around under the basket while Liberty's Alexis Adjei works on the defense Friday in Bakersfield in the Rams gymnasium.

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.