Bracket breakdown: LA City Section girls basketball Open Division semifinals

On Saturday, the Los Angeles City Section Open Division girls basketball semifinals will take place at L.A. Southwestern College. The top four seeds all advanced to the semifinals and are poised for two heavyweight clashes between teams from the Western and West Valley Leagues. Here’s a preview:

No. 1 Palisades vs. No. 4 Granada Hills Charter

These are the only two squads to hold the status as our top-ranked City Section teams this season. Both were undefeated in City Section play until Granada dropped two games narrowly against Open Division teams in their last two weeks of league play. Palisades has been very steady for a couple months on end. Either way, both have been clear championship contenders for much of the season.

In the quarterfinals, both were dominant. Granada Hills Charter beat No. 5 Narbonne, who has been dangerous all year, 45-29. Palisades blew out No. 8 Taft, who upset Granada in the last game of the regular season. As that would indicate, they have more momentum than Granada right now so they are a small favorite on paper. But it’s essentially a tossup.

The biggest storyline is certainly the center matchup between arguably the two top section MVP candidates, Jane Nwaba of Palisades and Haylee Aidan of GHC. They have both been dominant this season as rebounders and inside scorers but have contrasting styles.

Aidan, a D-1 commit, has a somewhat significant length advantage and is very smooth anywhere near the paint. Nwaba, who is also a D-1-caliber talent, is no taller than six feet but is still long, and very strong and physical. Both have great touch inside and are game-changing inside-out or high-low passers with knacks for finding cutters. Nwaba scores more on a nightly basis but Aidan has the edge as a rim protector and defensive anchor. It will likely be one of the best player matchups in the City Section on the season.

All that said, both teams are deep with All-City talent from one through four. Granada plays at a fairly slow, defensive pace, but still has four other players averaging at least seven points and contributing in multiple facets of the game in G/Fs Colleen Navasartian, Megan Delgado, and Leena Vo, and PF Samiyah Muhammad. That’s been the strongest defensive unit in the section this season.

Palisades has a lot of versatility and firepower in the backcourt with Gs Alexis Pettis, Demoni Lagway, and Sammie Arnold. Pettis is a physically disruptive point guard on both ends who can create off the dribble. Lagway and Arnold are both excellent 3-and-D players with a lot of size for backcourt players and the ability to play off the dribble as well. With Nwaba and Pettis constantly pushing the ball into the paint and either going up strong or firing it back out to multiple knockdown shooters, they play a type of inside-out ball that nobody else in the section can.

No. 2 El Camino Real vs. No. 3 Hamilton

Whereas the other matchup features two squads who play through elite centers and focus significantly on dominating the paint, El Camino Real and Hamilton spread the floor up to five out and whip the ball around looking for open jumpers. When shots are falling, both teams are difficult to contain off the dribble because there are open driving lanes abound, and both have multiple forwards with both size and guard skills attacking the rim.

More similarities are that both teams force a lot of turnovers far away from the basket. They will press and trap for significant portions of games and quickly turn mistakes into outlet passes and buckets. Neither team has the size to protect the rim exceptionally well or dominate the glass, but are used to packing the paint without leaving the perimeter exposed. That won’t matter because both teams’ rotation players are all under six feet tall.

Hamilton has the most balanced perimeter scoring attack in the City Section. They have a handful of perimeter threats who can all shoot, drive, and pass at a high level in F Kennedee Rankin, G/F Sydney Blevins, PF/C Trinity Conner, G Vanessa Cruz, and PG Sherisse Chensam. And all five of them keep the ball hopping around, but can create off the bounce when nothing develops. PF Mary Townsend is the energizer around the rim and helps the offense flow by slipping past defenders who hedge too far out around the perimeter. When they are on from three, they have too many threats, too much ball movement, and too much spacing to contain them.

None of them take upwards of 15 field goal attempts often at all, but a number of them can help carry the scoring load more than usual when needed. Rankin has missed time including their epic 59-55 quarterfinals victory against Crenshaw, in which Conner and Chensam both stuffed the stat sheet and Blevins was also in double-figures. Even without arguably their best rebounder, they surprisingly dominated a longer Cougars squad on the offensive glass.

There’s reportedly a strong chance Rankin will be back for the semifinals, and if they shoot as well as they did against Crenshaw with her back attacking the rim, they’re way scarier. If not, they still have a shot, but would be underdogs.

ECR plays through G Rebecca Saidoff more than Hamilton plays through any one player. Arguably the best player in the City Section, there is no way to take her out of a game when she can set up teammates so well when teams refuse to let her bury them with multiple levels of perimeter scoring. Even if you send two players at her, she can pull up from well behind the three-point arc anyway.

However, the Conquistadors are loaded with other stars and excellent spacing as well. They have multiple other guards who can score and run an offense at a high level in Jackie Privado and Payton Love. And they have someone with guard skills and the height of a power forward creating constant mismatches at center in Iliana Camua. Just like Hamilton, it’s their breadth of ball movement and floor spacing that keeps driving lanes wide open.

It will be fun to watch two energetic teams with very similar strengths and styles clash with a trip to the finals on the line. With a lot of threes guaranteed to be hoisted, it will come down to whoever gets hotter from the field on Saturday.

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