STOCKTON — The best word to describe Lathrop is etched into the back of the players’ practice jerseys.
“We plan on wearing you down,” Spartans coach Dwayne Davis said. “We’re coming at you.”
Their depth and speed of play proved to be too much for McNair in the first round of the 41st annual Tony Contreras Delta Queen Classic held at Stagg High. Mary Cotton may have had a little do with it as well, as the defending champion Spartans rolled to a 79-39 victory.
Cotton fired 20 of her game-high 25 points in the first half, also racking up 12 rebounds and six blocks in the process. She scored at will inside and out, draining three 3-pointers in all. The versatile 6-foot-1 standout even set up her teammates. After coming up with a backcourt steal, she found Kaysey Matela for an open 3 and the first of her three assists to make it 7-0 just 51 seconds into the contest.
McNair (2-1) did well stay in the fight early on, but the relentless Spartans (3-0) kept coming with fresh legs and a harassing defense that forced 23 turnovers and nearly pitched a shutout in the third quarter.
“We have a lot of new people but we’re hungry,” Cotton said. “(The added depth) just makes us stronger. We have players who can come in for someone who is tired and play just as well.”
Ayon Carter, one of the new faces, contributed 14 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. The 5-9 senior transferred to Lathrop in the middle of last season but did not play. She was previously at Alameda and Moreau Catholic in Hayward, and her aggressive play fits in well at Lathrop.
“This is probably one of my favorite teams, and I’ve played on a lot of different teams,” she said.
Matela chipped in nine points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Ten of 12 Spartans scored at least two points.
“We have 12 players this year who all want to play,” Davis said. “You can hear me yelling down there saying, ‘If you’re tired, raise your hand and we’ll get you out. We have somebody to replace you.’ I can rotate four or five good defensive players in for any of our starters.”
He wanted to see a better defensive effort out of his team in the first half — never mind the 47 points the Spartans registered over the first two quarters.
Crafty senior guard Danesah Thompson and energetic wing Alayssia Townsell sparked McNair. Thompson hit back-to-back 3s late in the first half, only for Lathrop to counter with Carter’s and-one conversion with 4.4 seconds to go. The Spartans led 47-30 at halftime but were not comfortable with it.
“We were a little slow at the beginning,” Carter said. “We had to play better defense and get a body on No. 1 (Thompson), because we could not stop her in the first half. Once we locked down defensively that got us going.”
Starting with Carter’s three-point play in the waning moments of the second quarter, Lathrop scored 21 unanswered points to lead 63-30 at one point in the third. Thompson buried a deep 3 with 1:22 to go for McNair’s only points in the period.
Thompson ended with 20 points, eight rebounds and three steals. Townsell collected eight points and 13 boards.
“They were playing well in the first half — they earned what they got,” Davis said. “They have some players — you don’t (average) 24 points by accident. (Thompson) got out and showed she was a baller. We got a little lackadaisical defensively and she attacked the basket. We haven’t had anyone attack us yet. Until tonight, nobody has tested us like that.”
Lathrop’s first big test is likely to come tonight in its semifinal showdown with upstart Laguna Creek (6-0), a young but talented squad led by former Manteca High coach Cody Norman. Tipoff is scheduled for 8.