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Paul Danzer On College Hoops: She and Lions struggle against improved Portland, Jesuit grad Andersen

COURTESY: LOYOLA MARYMOUNT UNIVERSITY - Freshman Ciera Ellington, who helped lead Benson High to a state championship last season, has been a regular starter and contributor at both ends of the floor for the Loyola Marymount Lions.The return to Chiles Center didn't go as well as Loyola Marymount freshman Ciera "CiCi" Ellington hoped.

The player whose versatility helped Benson Tech win the Class 6A championship at Chiles last March struggled in her homecoming on Thursday.

Another Portlander, Pilots senior Kate Andersen, had a significant hand in those struggles as Portland beat LMU 74-49.

The only senior on a young Pilots team, Andersen followed her game-winning shot on Saturday at Santa Clara with a 19-point night against the Lions. The Jesuit High grad added two steals, seven rebounds and three assists as the Pilots improved to 5-3 in West Coast Conference play, 12-7 overall.

Thursday's game was the first of four in a row at home for the Pilots, who hope to continue to build momentum when Pepperdine visits at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Andersen credits the attention to detail from first-year coach Michael Meek and his staff for the success on the floor.

"It's been a lot of fun," Andersen said. "A week into practices I knew this was going to be my favorite season. Good coaches, good teammates, good program. What more could you want?"

COURTESY PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND ATHLETICS - Kate Andersen continued her strong senior season with 19 points in Thursday's win over Loyola Marymount.After averaging 6.1 points in 90 games over her first three college seasons, the 5-9 Andersen is averaging 14 per game after 19 games this season. Even better, the win over LMU means the Pilots already have won as many conference games as they did a year ago.

Andersen clinched one of those wins with that 3-pointer at the buzzer at Santa Clara, getting an open look from the corner after a series of Pilot passes.

"That was fun," she said. "You can really tell we are on a selfless team because the ball is being constantly passed around, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."

Meek appreciates Andersen's maturity and commitment to her teammates.

"She's been a great leader, an unselfish player that's done a great job of figuring out when she can be aggressive. She's been awesome," Meek said. "She just plays so hard that even when she doesn't score she's doing a great job defensively and the offense is getting better all the time. Regardless of who you are, you can't always count on (scoring), and she's doing a great job of focusing on the things she can control, like her effort."

Portland's effort, especially its defensive pressure, forced Ellington and LMU out of any comfort zone. 

"It was just one of those nights," said Ellington, who had seven rebounds and three assists, but made six turnovers and shot 2 of 11 for four points. "It happens. We played really scattered today. That's just part of the journey. I've just got to put in more work."

Ellington was coming off scoring a career-high 18 points in consecutive Lions wins on Jan. 11 against Santa Clara and Jan. 18 at Pepperdine, efforts that raised her scoring average to 11.1. Thursday's game was her 20th consecutive start.

"CiCi has come in and made an immediate impact from day one," LMU coach Charity Elliott said. "She has all the natural gifts and abilities, but has really had to focus on running a team as the point guard."

An athletic 5-10 guard/forward, Ellington isn't surprised to be playing so much as a freshman on a fairly young Lions team.

"I came in with the mind-set that I wanted to start and be an impact freshman," she said.

Her defending is a work in progress, Ellington said, noting she cannot rely only on the speed and quickness that helped her dominate at times in high school games.

Ellington is improving her preparation according to Elliott.

"She's come a long way in preparing herself to play but also in understanding the big picture when it comes to the scouting report and what we need out of a floor general," Elliott said." I am so proud of her progression and can't wait to see her grow and mature as a player. She's a really special player and person."

As was the case at Benson, Ellington is asked to do a variety of things on defense. 

Against Portland, her quickness was used both at the front of the Lions' press and guarding perimeter players in the half-court. She also found herself matched down low against 6-1 freshman Alex Fowler, the most-recent WCC player of the week.

"That's my advantage. I'm used to it," Ellington said of defending every position on the floor. "Wherever they want to put me I'm going to go. I have the length to guard bigger players, and I'm quick enough to guard guards."

Thursday's loss for the Lions ended a run of three wins in a row. LMU is 7-14, 3-5 in WCC play.

Though her visit to Portland did not result in a great performance on the court, Ellington enjoyed the support she received, including from Benson coaches and players who attended the game.

"It was nice seeing everyone. I know they expected more out of me, but I've just got to work harder," Ellington said.

She is excited about the future at LMU, which, like Portland, has a roster dominated by underclassmen.

"We're young, and we're just going to keep learning and growing," she said. "Although this wasn't the prettiest game, our ceiling is high, so we're just going to keep working."

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