The Santa Clara Bruins varsity basketball team improved to 7-1 with a 68-26 blowout victory over Mt. Pleasant on Dec. 20. Santa Clara’s hot start to the season will see them play one more non-league game before taking part in a holiday tournament between the Christmas holiday and the start of the new year.
Given the team’s sizzling start, it’s hard not to have high hopes if you’re a Bruins fan. The core four of Nina Llamas, Kendall Yee, Charm Azul and Mia Talalele have been playing together for multiple seasons now at the varsity level. The squad looks prime for an El Camino League Championship if all goes according to plan.
That amount of experience might explain why longtime Head Coach Deedee Kiyota was fired up on the sidelines Wednesday even during a game that was already turning into a rout in the Bruins’ favor. Kiyota knows if her squad wants to reach its potential, the players can’t be getting into any bad habits.
“I wasn’t really looking at the scoreboard. It was just seeing the mistakes we were making,” chuckled Kiyota on her passion from the sidelines. “To me, those are simple mistakes that we shouldn’t be making. Those kinds of things just bother me. Not really paying attention to the score, but mistakes we should not make, things that we go over time and time again. And to me, it’s just about playing smart basketball and that wasn’t smart basketball.”
On the receiving end of some of that constructive criticism was Charm Azul, who knew she should have passed on a three-on-one fast break.
“I really appreciate how Kiyota coaches us,” acknowledged Azul. “I think regardless of the score, I think she’s able to make us a better team and better individual players as well. She just wants us to play to the level she knows we are capable of.”
In terms of players playing to the level they are capable of, perhaps the most improved of the core for this season is Kendall Yee. As noted two weeks ago, Coach Kiyota had high praise for Yee’s offseason work. Yee looks like an extremely confident player, attacking the game with far less hesitation. But how does the senior guard feel about her own game?
“I definitely feel like I’ve been able to step up my level of play,” noted Yee, echoing her coach’s thoughts on her own game. “I’ve been working on my defense more and over the summer, I was working on my shot. I just wanted to make sure I had a better season this year since it’s my last one.”
It’s a big year for the Bruins as three of the core four, Yee, Llamas, and Azul, will all be graduating in the spring. A championship sendoff would be the perfect culmination for a group that has played varsity together for the past three years.