From Gunn first-year head coach Melanie Murphy's perspective, Evergreen Valley came into Saturday afternoon's contest intent on taking away the Titans' lethal outside shooting attack.
As it turned out, the Cougars probably should have tried to game plan a little more for Meghan Mahoney down low.
Gunn's 6-foot-1 junior center poured in a season-high 26 points and 15 rebounds, as the top-seeded Titans used a 33-point second quarter to propel themselves to a 69-54 victory in the quarterfinals of the Central Coast Section Division I tournament at the new Gunn Gymnasium.
"The second quarter was huge for us," said Murphy, who played point guard at Stanford from 2006 to 2011. "We really took advantage of what we had, which was the inside. They were really playing us as an outside shooting team, which we can definitely hit, but there are multiple facets to our game that make us hard to guard."
Gunn's 69 points were a season-high for the Titans, eclipsing their 53-point effort against Wilcox last week while knocking off the SCVAL De Anza Division regular-season champion.
"I think it was one of our best (offensive performances) of the season for sure," Murphy said. "We can definitely be a dangerous offensive team when we are firing on all cylinders. I think we're hitting momentum at the right time."
Against a much smaller eighth-seeded Cougars squad, there was a concerted effort by Gunn to feed Mahoney down low in the post, and she delivered time and time again, scoring all nine of her baskets right around the rim.
Mahoney also did a good job of getting herself to the free-throw line, and converted on her opportunities from the stripe.
"I've been struggling with my free throws this whole season, so it finally came together today, which was nice," said Mahoney, who made eight of her 10 free-throw attempts. "I've been practicing nonstop at it."
Along with Mahoney, Gunn received big offensive contributions from senior starting guards Camille Steger and Zoe Zwerling, who scored 12 and 11 points, respectively. Forward Sarah Longyear also had a big impact for the Titans off the bench, as the senior put up 10 points and six rebounds.
For No. 8 Evergreen Valley (15-14), its leading-scorer, Annanya Raghavan, had 13 points, but only managed two points after halftime.
Gunn appeared a little rusty at the start of the game, as six Titan turnovers helped the Cougars build a 15-6 advantage by the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter opened with Raghavan and fellow senior guard Carolyn Ngo hitting back to back 3-pointers for the Cougars, and the Titans found themselves down 20-8 with seven minutes to go before halftime.
"We just needed to be patient, work our offense a little more," Murphy said her team's early struggles.
Steger helped jumpstart the Titans offensively, knocking down two jumpers and a 3-pointer to cut Evergreen Valley's lead down to 20-17 midway through the second quarter.
From there Mahoney began to impose her will, as the Cougars seemingly had no answer for her size and skill down low.
"We've been talking about it the whole season, we need a more in-and-out game versus relying mostly on threes," said Mahoney, who scored 12 points in the second quarter alone. "We finally did that today. We took advantage of our size."
Just before the end of the half, Mahoney put an exclamation point on the offensive outburst, converting a three-point play the old-fashion way to put the Titans up 39-30 at halftime.
"Mahoney is a huge presence for us inside," Murphy said. "To be able to know that we can feed the ball inside and have someone that can also clean up baskets when we miss is big."
Gunn started the third quarter red-hot as well, as two Mahoney layups and a Paige Ogawa 3-pointer gave the Titans a commanding 16-point advantage.
Evergreen Valley struggled to remain competitive for most of the second half, but did go on a 10-5 run late in the fourth quarter to cut the Titans' lead to just eight with three minutes remaining.
However the Cougars could not move any closer, and Mahoney sealed the Titans victory with eight straight points to end the game.
For Murphy, the quarterfinal victory was big for a team that played just 15 games during the regular season, but the young head coach had grander overall goals for her squad.
"A CCS championship would be huge, but I would also like to win state, and that's something (Gunn) hasn't done yet," said Murphy, who credited Gunn assistant coach James Testa and JV head coach Richard Ogawa for helping her out greatly this season. "We're taking it one game at a time. We're not going to look ahead; we're going to work ahead. We know that every game is important."
Gunn (9-7) won't have to travel for Wednesday's semifinals as the Titans will host No. 4 Piedmont Hills (20-8) at 7:30 p.m. The Pirates were a 44-32 winner over No. 5 Carlmont (24-4) on Saturday. The Titans are seeking a third straight CCS title.
In the other semifinal at Gunn, No. 3-seeded Palo Alto (12-12) will take on No. 2 North Salinas (23-2) at 5:30 p.m. The Vikings advanced with a 57-54 win over No. 6 Mountain View (14-12) as freshman Lauren Koyama made six 3-pointers and finished with 22 points.
The Spartans held a 40-28 lead with two minutes left in the third quarter before Paly went on an 18-4 run that cut the lead to 40-32 at the end of three, and then eventually Paly took the lead. Much of this run was due to good inside play by Alexis Harris, who had seven points in the run.
Koyama was huge, she hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer at the first, scored a 3-pointer to give Paly its first lead of the game at 46-44 with 3:55 left and then made some key free throws.
In the final seconds, Paly almost gave the game away. The Vikings led by four with six seconds to go when Jayme Hughes of Mountain View was fouled on a 3-pointer. She missed the first, made the second, and missed the third. Harris went for the rebound, but lost the ball out of bounds giving Mountain View a final shot with 4.7 left. The Spartans' Erin Kobishigawa just missed a 3-pointer off the backboard in the final second.
North Salinas advanced with a 59-56 win over No. 7 Menlo-Atherton on Saturday, also at Gunn.
The Bears (17-10) started fast, opening up a 14-6 lead. In the second quarter, M-A freshman center Ofa Sili scored eight of her 14 points to push the lead to 12 early in the second. With the Vikings in foul trouble early in the second, everything was going right for the Bears.
However, the Vikings maintained their extraordinarily aggressive defensive scheme with only a few additional calls in the second and third quarters. In the third, Vikings junior post Alyssa Springs scored 12 of her 20 and North Salinas opened a five-point lead.
The Bears eventually tied the game at 48 in with three minutes remaining in the fourth on six points each from juniors Sarah Howell and Naomi Baer. Down by three with five seconds left, the Bears could not get the ball up the court for a shot.
Division IV girls
With sophomore Emma Paye making five 3-pointeers and pouring in 21 points, Menlo School posted a 58-50 quarterfinal victory over No. 7 seed Monte Vista Christian at Notre Dame-Belmont.
The No. 2-seeded Knights (16-11) jumped out to 15-7 led at the first quarter and held on from there against Monte Vista Christian (20-7) as Menlo made only 14 of 31 free throws.
In addition to Paye, freshman Sam Erisman added 16 points plus seven assists and three steals. Sophomore Olivia Pellarin filled up the stat line with five points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Erisman also chipped in 7 assists and 3 steals.
Menlo next plays in the semifinals on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., also at Notre Dame-Belmont, against No. 6 King's Academy (21-6), which upset No. 3 Sacred Heart Prep, 60-46. The Gators finished their season at 13-13. King's Academy was the second-place team from the lower WBAL Skyline Division.
Castilleja, the first-place team from the Skyline Division, also advanced to the semifinals with a hard fought 35-30 win over No. 4-seeded Mercy-San Francisco at Notre Dame-Belmont.
Junior all-league center Yasmeen Afifi followed up her triple-double in the tournament opener with a 19-point, 9-rebound performance.
Mercy jumped out to an early 14-6 lead as Afifi picked up two quick fouls. The Gators' defense held the Skippers scoreless for the rest of the first half and Afifi and Paige Vermeer each scored four points for a 14-all tie at intermission.
Maddie Tarr drained a three early in the third quarter for Castilleja's first lead at 17-14, and the Gators' defense limited Mercy to just seven second-half points until the final 90 seconds of the game. By then, the Gators were up 33-21.
Vermeer finished with seven points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. She now has 301 career steals, second only to Eve Zelinger ('10) in school history. Tarr had four points and seven rebounds.
The No. 5-seeded Gators (19-9) will meet No. 1 Notre Dame-Belmont (10-16) in the semifinals on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.. NDB advanced with a 48-34 win over No. 8 Mercy-Burlingame.
Division I boys
Third-seeded Menlo-Atherton (17-8) advanced to the semifinals with a 51-43 win over No. 6 Palo Alto (14-11) at Piedmont Hills on Saturday night. The Bears will face No. 7 Homestead (17-9) in the semis on Wednesday at Independence High (5:30 p.m.) after the Mustangs upset No. 2 Piedmont Hills, 57-48.
Palo Alto got 20 points from junior Kevin Mullin and 16 from senior Keesean Johnson, but fell behind by 31-23 at halftime and played catch-up from there. Royce Branning hit four 3-pointers and finished with 16 for the Bears while senior teammate Oliver Bucka added 14.
Division IV boys
With junior Corbin Koch tallying a game-high 18 points and sophomore Connor Moses nailing five 3-pointers and finishing with 17 points, Sacred Heart Prep advanced with a 61-42 quarterfinal victory over King's Academy at Kaiser Arena in Santa Cruz.
The top-seeded Gators (18-7) completed a season sweep of the No. 8-seeded Knights (15-11), also winning twice during the West Bay Athletic League season.
Moses, who started the season on the JV team but was brought up early on due to injuries and a lack of players, wound up sticking with the varsity and head coach Tony Martinelli is probably quite happy with that decision as Moses has been a solid contributor to the Gators' success this season.
Next up will be the semifinals on Tuesday at Menlo School at 7:30 p.m., where the Gators will face No. 4 Palma (16-9), a 55-45 winner over No. 5 Menlo School (12-14).
Against Palma, the Knights trailed 24-20 but a 22-9 third quarter gave the Chieftans the edge. Menlo junior Liam Dunn finished with a team-high 14 points, and had four assists and five steals. Menlo's Alex Grossman contributed nine points, and had six rebounds, three assists and a pair of blocks. Teammate Wes Miller also scored nine and blocked four shots for the Knights.
Division V boys
Top-seeded Pinewood and No. 2 Priory both advanced to the semifinals while No. 5 Eastside Prep (10-16) was eliminated following a 46-38 loss to No. 4 Alma Heights.
Pinewood (21-4) cruised past No. 8 Crystal Springs, 57-29, and will face host Alma Heights (21-6) in one semifinal on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Greg Naumann led the Panthers with 11 points with Ryan Brice adding 10. Roshan Bal contributed nine points and five rebounds. Pinewood made just four of 22 shots from 3-point range, but raced to a 20-4 first-quarter lead and rolled from there against the Gryphons, who the Panthers defeated twice during the WBAL season.
Priory (15-9), which got 24 points from senior Connor Bonfiglio and 13 from freshman Nicholas Arslaner, advanced with a 51-36 victory over No. 7 St. Thomas More (20-6) and will take on No. 3 St. Francis-Central Coast Catholic (14-12) in the other semifinal at 5:30 p.m.