LOS ANGELES — Having had their team play in the venue last season, the Bellarmine-Jefferson High boys' basketball coaches thought they had their players ready to deal with the deep sightlines and the NBA dimensions and expansive three-point line of Staples Center.
But with a group of transfers this season, many of the Guards didn't play in the Staples Center game a year ago and were unfamiliar with the facilities of the cavernous arena.
As a result, Bell-Jeff had a dismal shooting performance Wednesday against San Gabriel Academy and former Providence standout Marcus LoVett Jr. In the end, it wasn't even close, as the Eagles cruised to a 66-33 nonleague victory.
"I really think that the length of the court and the long three-point line definitely gave us some problems," said Bell-Jeff Coach Julian Andrade, whose team beat San Gabriel at Staples Center last season, 64-51. "It played with their minds and it was tough for them to deal with it. You could see we had problems with our shooting."
The Guards (16-10) — ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division V-A — struggled with their shooting throughout the game, never converting more than four shots from the field in any of the four quarters. Bell-Jeff wound up making good on just 11 of 61 field-goal attempts for an 18% effort.
Bell-Jeff's most productive quarter was the first, when it converted four of 14 shots (28.6%) from the field. The Guards also endured quarters in which they shot 19.2%, 25% and 10.5%.
"I know playing here was tough for some of the guys," said Bell-Jeff junior Abid Oses, who paced the Guards with a 16-point effort to go along with seven rebounds. "It is very different to play here and it's very wide. When you took a shot you thought you were close, but your shot would be very short.
"But we didn't play with that much energy. I think that was a big problem for us. We just didn't play like we usually do."
LoVett, a junior, who played at Providence before departing last season during his sophomore year, didn't experience the same troubles with the Staples Center court. LoVett, who was No. 42 in the nation earlier this season in the Scout.com class of 2015 rankings, enjoyed playing in the arena.
"I'm a basketball player, and I'm going to adjust to any court or any arena that I play in, no matter what the shape or dimensions. I just have to adjust," said LoVett, a former All-Area Player of the Year and Leader Male Athlete of the Year. "I didn't have to make too many adjustments. I want to make it to the next level and if I'm lucky I hope to play in an arena like this some day."
In three quarters, LoVett scored 10 points and dished out six assists.
San Gabriel (18-7) — ranked No. 2 in Division V-AA — received big efforts from Joshua Ajayi (21 points and 12 rebounds) and Lukas Ganas (15 points).
The Guards fell behind early against the Eagles and were never able to recover. As the game wore on, things went from bad to dismal for Bell-Jeff.
It began the game by missing its first four shots from the field. That allowed San Gabriel to jump out to an 8-0 lead with 5:13 remaining in the first quarter. Bell-Jeff was able to rebound and narrowed the advantage to four, 13-9, on a basket by Clark Thomas (nine points) with 1:56 left. But the Eagles ended the quarter on a 5-0 run to take an 18-9 lead into the first break.
"It is a great experience for the kids to be able to play in an arena like this," Andrade said. "How many high school basketball players in American ever get the opportunity to play in a place like this? I just wish we could have given them a better game."
Bell-Jeff suffered through more shooting woes to open the second quarter, missing its first nine shots from the field. By the time the Guards made their first bucket, a layup from Oses with 2:41 remaining, San Gabriel had already built a 25-11 cushion. That basket would be the Guards' lone field goal of the stanza. Bell-Jeff was outscored, 19-2, in the second.
San Gabriel took full advantage and went into the half with a comfortable 37-11 cushion.
In the third quarter, the Guards continued to dig themselves a hole, making good on just one of their first 10 field-goal attempts. However, Bell-Jeff would play the Eagles even in the quarter at 16-16, but still trailed mightily after three quarters, 53-27.
In the fourth, the Eagles were up my as many as 34, 64-30.
"Even though we lost, it was a good experience," Oses said. "It is just great to play here."