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Sierra Canyon defeats Harvard-Westlake with Juju Watkins sidelined in Mission League opener


With Juju Watkins, Sierra Canyon is a force.

Without Juju Watkins, Sierra Canyon is a force.

They’re both undeniable, undisputable, one statement enhancing the other. Watkins, the senior USC commit and arguably the best player in the country, has put up video-game numbers on what coach Alicia Komaki described as a “farewell tour” in leading Sierra Canyon to a 13-0 start. And simply having her on the floor presents a problem: How on earth are defenses supposed to contend with the likes of junior MacKenly Randolph, senior Crystal Wang and flourishing junior Izela Arenas?

“You’re telling me the [opposing] third- or fourth-best defender is going to guard her?” Troy coach Roger Anderson said of Arenas earlier in the season.

Watkins wasn’t there to take away Harvard-Westlake’s best defender — feisty ballhawk Jamie Yue — Tuesday night, nursing an ankle injury in a sweatsuit on the bench. But the Trailblazers proved scary deep without her in a 70-50 win over the Wolverines to open Mission League play, as Wang bulldozed her way to 21 points and Arenas racked up 16 through the end of the third quarter.

Sure, this may not have looked like much more than an early-January Sierra Canyon blowout. But it, at a small level, carried deeper playoff implications.

The Trailblazers lost last season’s Southern Section Open Division title to Etiwanda in large part because Watkins got in third-quarter foul trouble, the rest of the Trailblazers falling out of rhythm. If the whistles strike again in a key late-season situation, Sierra Canyon team is deeper and more versatile than last season’s state-championship squad.

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“We play the same way whether she’s on the court or she’s on the bench … everybody else should always play the same way,” Komaki said of Watkins.

The left-handed Arenas, in particular, has taken her game to a new level this season as both a go-to-scorer and complementary guard. She might score 26 points one game and two the next, Komaki said, and she and the Trailblazers would be perfectly happy either way.

“I feel like I have a big role to play this year,” Arenas said.

Randolph, though, looked glum after Sierra Canyon’s win, and Komaki didn’t mince words that their defense was less than optimal, too often letting Harvard-Westlake probe the interior and find Jordyn Call for threes.

“If we’re playing our best basketball now, we’re in trouble,” Komaki said.

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