Six weeks equaled a stark turnaround for Bakersfield High's basketball team.
The Drillers thumped Mira Monte 67-31 on Wednesday night in the first round of the Garces Holiday Hoops Challenge; that's the same opponent that tied Bakersfield late and lost by just five in the season opener Nov. 28.
"I don't want to say too much, because I don't know how much better," BHS coach Greg Burt said, "but we've definitely gotten better. That was our first game, and our kids have figured out their roles."
On this night, B.J. Shelton had 14 points and Jonah Broom and Jared Mathews scored 10 each to pace Bakersfield, which sprinted to a 15-4 lead and never led by less than 15 after halftime.
They also wreaked havoc defensively, forcing Mira Monte (7-4) into 30 turnovers and holding Braxton Huggins to 8 points after the 6-foot-3 junior scored 34 in the teams' first meeting.
"The effort has been there all season, and you saw that tonight," Burt said. "Our problem right now is that we sometimes get sloppy. That's what's keeping us from taking the next step."
The Drillers (11-3) will play East in the tournament quarterfinals at 5:55 today. The winner there will play the winner of Independence and Fresno-Washington Union, who wrap up today's action at 8:45.
If BHS should meet Independence in Friday's semifinals, it would be a rematch of an instant classic played at the Lloyd Williams tournament last month; Bakersfield erased a double-digit deficit, watched Independence's Derek Check tie the game on a buzzer-beater and then won in overtime.
On Wednesday, Independence (12-1) beat Burroughs 53-31. Perhaps the Falcons' main competition for the Central Section Division III championship is lurking on the other half of the bracket: Tulare-Mission Oak, which took out Shafter 71-34 behind 26 points from Bobby Alvarado. The Hawks will play Frontier, a 63-59 overtime winner over West, in the first quarterfinal at 4:30.
Garces, which received 23 points from Rashad Jackson and 21 from Justin Gapper to beat Fresno-Roosevelt 75-65, will play in the 7:20 quarterfinal against either Golden Valley or El Segundo. Those teams meet at 10:50 a.m. in the final first round game.
The individual star of the tourney's first day was Delano junior Rey Ramos: He had 24 points in a 60-46 win over Northwest Christian that put the Tigers in the main bracket, then 27 more in a 71-64 loss to East.