STOCKTON -- During the eight-game winning streak that came to an end with Friday night's 83-62 loss at St. Mary's, Modesto Christian's girls basketball team was cruising to victory by an average of 37 points.
Included in that run was an 87-point victory over Escalon and a 70-point win over Riverbank in Trans-Valley League games.
So, if given the choice between romping to easy wins or struggling and having team weaknesses uncovered against the most difficult competition available, which type of game would the Crusaders' choose?
"I'd rather lose by 20 against a team like this than win by 80 points any day," said MC guard Brandi Henton. "This is a lot more fun. When you play someone not nearly as good as you, you're not getting any better. When you play St. Mary's, we're gaining and it shows us our room for improvement."
Consider that Henton, as the team's point guard and chief ball-handler, committed her share of turnovers in the loss to the Rams. In all, the Crusaders committed 41 turnovers against the full-court pressure of St. Mary's, 18-3 and the top-ranked team in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
Still, Henton insisted it was fun, as did forward Taryn Garza.
"I'd rather play in games like this," Garza said. "It challenges us and allows us to show what we are as a team. It was tough tonight, but I hope we can learn from all of these mistakes and win the rest of our games."
There is no one on MC's remaining regular-season schedule, or even on the Division V playoff horizon, that will be as talented and deep as the Rams. St. Mary's has perhaps the best 1-2 scoring punch in the state in 5-foot-11-inch junior guard Chelsea Gray and 6-foot junior forward Afure Jemerigbe.
Gray had her way against the Crusaders, hitting five 3-pointers and getting to the hoop at will for her 35 points, while Jemerigbe had 24. Henton had 16 and Garza 13 for MC.
Modesto Christian (14-7) stayed tight with the Rams for about 11 minutes. Three easy baskets in a row earned by attacking the Rams' press had MC within 28-25 with five minutes left in the first half.
But three consecutive backcourt turnovers against that press allowed St. Mary's to score six points in 21 seconds, giving the Rams a 34-25 lead and robbing the Crusaders of some of their steam.
"When we got the ball up the sideline it was open for us," said MC coach Robb Spencer. "We have to find the consistency to where we can pick apart what the opposition gives us."
The Rams built the lead to 12 points by halftime, and 20 after a third quarter in which the Crusaders committed 14 turnovers.
"The pace was in our favor," said St. Mary's coach Tom Gonsalves. "Most teams lose their legs after three quarters when we play that pace, but Modesto Christian played well."