State

MC's Garza looking for big game tonight

Taryn Garza rebounds and plays defense like a double espresso — constantly jolting in and out of passing lanes, swallowing missed shots as if she had been caffeinating for weeks.

The goal for the Modesto Christian junior forward is to play offense with the patience of someone enjoying a cup of herbal tea — taking a second to relax and savor the moment.

The approach has worked for Garza and her Crusaders teammates this season. They will take a 25-7 record into tonight's 6 p.m. NorCal Division IV semifinal against Marin Catholic at Ripon High. The Crusader boys will meet St. Mary's of Albany in the nightcap.

The site of the doubleheader was moved Wednesday at the request of the State CIF. The MC Gym seats about 700 and the doors were closed prior to halftime of Tuesday's girls game. The Ripon High gym seats 1,400 and has a legal capacity of 1,774.

The 5-foot-11-inch Garza, who averages 12.6 points, is the second-leading scorer for the Crusaders, but is in a bit of a shooting slump. Over the last two games she has scored six points on 2 for 24 shooting.

But she's not worried, nor are her teammates. The Crusaders actually are scoring five points per game more in the postseason than they did in the regular season and have won their five postseason games by an average of 31 points.

And Garza has been a dominant player even when not scoring. When she scored one point against Linden in the Sac-Joaquin Section final, she set a section title game record with 19 rebounds. And in Tuesday's 75-48 victory over Central Valley of Lake Shasta, Garza's five points were augmented by 10 rebounds, eight assists and an astonishing 13 steals.

"I know I have to do certain things for our team to succeed," Garza said. "Right now my shot's not falling, so I have to go out and play harder on defense, which is what I do best anyway, and give my teammates assists."

Garza knows what she needs to do to make more shots. It's something addressed every day in practice by coach Robb Spencer and an idea Garza's beginning to take to heart.

"We've been talking about her scoring and how what she needs to do is stop and take a second before she shoots," Spencer said. "She's always ahead of the pace of the game and is always churning. If she could just find a way to pause, she'd still be ahead of the game, and her scoring would improve. If she starts scoring for us, we'll be so far ahead of the other teams. It would be over."

Such is the luxury of having the kind of offensive depth Modesto Christian enjoys. At this point of the playoffs it's OK if Garza doesn't score, because junior point guard Brandi Henton averages 15.3 points per game and senior shooting guard Stefani Agostini is averaging 14.4 points, including 3.6 3-pointers, in the postseason.

"I think Taryn scoring is a big part of our team, Henton said. "She does so many other things, especially rebound, like those 19 rebounds she got against Linden. She's just now starting to shoot a lot, so this is new to her, and I know she's going to get it done."

But the the games are bound to be closer as MC chases a state title — games in which Garza's scoring will be needed.

"Her scoring could be important for us, but we're not used to her having to score," Spencer said. "I don't ever go into a game depending on Taryn having to score for us because of everything else she does. To me, an assist is just like scoring."

And for Garza's part, she takes missing a shot as a reason to work harder on defense and hit the boards with greater intensity — as if that's possible.

"I really just have to work on my shot," Garza said. "It will come, and soon I hope. I really want to help my team out in that way and go to the state championship game."

The title game. For Garza and her teammates, a chance to play for all the coffee beans.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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