Two days after losing friend and NBA icon Kobe Bryant, Clovis West girls basketball head coach Craig Campbell knew it would be an emotional game Tuesday against Clovis North.
Prior to tip off, Clovis West paid homage to the late Lakers star with a 24-second moment of silence as Golden Eagles players wore custom shirts honoring Kobe and his daughter Gianna, both of whom perished in a helicopter crash Sunday morning.
It was impossible for Campbell to hold back tears.
“For me, it was a little cloudy when the ball went up,” Campbell said. “Just the emotions circling through the gym and thinking about where you are individually in life.”
It was a difficult start to the game for Clovis West, but the seven-time defending Central Section champions showed remarkable resolve in their 54-32 rout of visiting Clovis North Tuesday night.
The game was a rematch of the Central Section D-1 girls basketball title game of the past two years, another contributing factor to what Campbell described as “nerves” in his team during the first quarter.
Clovis West did not make a shot in the first two minutes of the game, yet made up for its early sputtering offense with ferocious defense.
Turnovers by Clovis North led to fast break points for the Golden Eagles, who went on an 8-0 run to take the lead midway through the first quarter.
It was a lead that California’s 12th-ranked girls team would not surrender.
Clovis North kept the game close, cutting the score to 15-9 after the first quarter, but the Broncos suffered an offensive outage in the second quarter.
Clovis West outdid themselves on defense in the second period, shutting out Clovis North completely and scoring 18 straight points to build a 33-9 halftime lead.
Junior guard Nikki Tom acted as a crucial part to the Golden Eagles’ big second quarter, netting 10 points in the quarter alone and 12 in the first half total.
Campbell knew once his team got settled in after an emotional pregame tribute, his Golden Eagles would do something special on the court.
“For us, the goal early in the game was to stay calm and get through [the slow start],” Campbell said. “I liked what I saw with the defense and rebounding, so I felt our offense would settle in at some point.”
Guided by Tom, Clovis West played more fluidly on offense, with passing and motion emphasized. Combined with a stellar performance from West’s half-court defense, the Golden Eagles proved too much for Clovis North to handle down the stretch.
Clovis West led 47-22 after the third quarter and coasted through the final minutes of regulation to clinch their 21st win of the season and improve to 6-0 in TRAC play.
Most importantly, for Campbell, players and fans of both teams in attendance, Tuesday’s game was a time to heal following the tragic death of a basketball legend.