Linden High's strategy was to control the pace, limit Brandi Henton to a handful of shots and force her teammates to hit outside jumpers.
"We're an athletic group, most of us play other sports, so we felt we'd be able to take some things away," Linden guard Natalie Winters said.
The problem was, when the Lions halted one aspect of Modesto Christian's offense, the Crusaders asserted their dominance with another.
By the time that night was over, the Crusaders had displayed all the different parts of their game during an 83-52 victory in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 quarterfinals.
"We were a good team last season and we're a better team right now," said Robb Spencer, whose Crusaders (24-4) played for a state title last year. "We have the inside game, we have the backcourt, we have the girls coming off the bench. We need to get better, though."
MC, No. 4 in CalHiSports.com's state Division 4 rankings, showed its versatility in a 26-point first quarter: 6-foot-1 Danielle Thompson dominated inside, while Henton and Marinna McKeever nailed outside shots.
Thompson scored 14 in the quarter, including 10 in the first three minutes to help MC to a 12-5 lead. She hit all seven of her shots in the period, and finished the game with 20 points, seven rebounds, five blocks and four assists.
Henton (29 points, six rebounds) popped in a trey midway through the quarter, then McKeever hit a trey for a 26-9 lead. The Crusaders were 12-of-15 from the floor in the quarter.
"We like to play at a quick pace and Linden was willing to play our game," said 5-11 forward Taryn Garza, who is headed to the University of the Pacific and finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. "Having Brandi playing the off-guard, instead of point, is creating opportunities for the rest of us because the defense is always looking her way."
Henton was The Bee's Player of the Year as a junior, leading the team in scoring and running the offense. With Alexus Tillman taking a greater role at the point, it's allowed Henton to focus on defense and her offensive game.
She scored nine in the first half, but opened the third quarter with three consecutive shots for a 51-34 lead. She drove through traffic for a pair of acrobatic shots, then Thompson hit her with an outlet pass for a layup.
Henton, headed to Long Beach State, nailed a trey and two free throws later in the period. She capped her performance with a 3-pointer from the top of the key as the buzzer sounded.
That made it 71-43 and the top-seeded Crusaders were on the way to Wednesday's semifinal vs. No. 4 Christian Brothers (19-10). No. 2 Argonaut (29-0) faces No. 3 Colfax (16-11) in the other semifinal at Tokay High.
"This is a good game for us to get, because they're going to be more difficult as we move ahead," said Garza, noting MC intentionally slowed the game during a 26-point third quarter to they could run plays from a set offense.
Garza and Thompson alternated at the high post as teammates would slash into the key looking for a pass and Henton would set up near the 3-point line — 20 feet from the hoop.
Henton, McKeever and Tillman each hit a trey in the quarter, and Garza frustrated the Lions' defensive plan with two jumpers from 16 feet. Linden was within 54-38 when 6-1 sophomore Kirstyn Champion scored inside, but MC answered with a 17-5 run to go up by 28.
"We were hoping that if we could stop Henton, we'd force their other players to hit their 3-pointers," Winters said. "The other girls hit the shots, though. That's how good they are."
The only sour note for the Crusaders was a knee injury to 5-10 sophomore Valerie Moore. Spencer is hoping it is just a hyperextension, but Moore went in for X-rays after the game.