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SANTA ANA — Cassandra Zazueta played with a broken nose and knee brace Thursday night as she joined her twin sister Chloe and the Calvary Chapel girls basketball team for a rugged game against visiting Anaheim.
The nonleague clash between CIF-SS Division 3A contenders unfolded at a near-frantic pace with physical man-to-man defense and mostly contested drives to the basket.
But the Zazueta sisters were right where they wanted to be, motivated to play well on the anniversary of the death of their coaches, Kobe Bryant and Christina Mauser, and three childhood friends on that fateful day, Jan 26, 2020.
The sisters, now high school seniors, were part of Bryant’s Mambas team for older players.
The twins responded on cue, teaming with sophomore point guard Micaela Hanning and junior guard Maddie Kovats among others for a 59-51 victory at Calvary Chapel High.
“As hard as today was, we just wanted to make sure that this entire game, our buckets, everything, steals, was for our coaches and our teammates because they can’t be here,” Chloe Zazueta said before wiping away tears.
“We just took all the lessons that Coach Bryant and Coach Christina taught us, offensively and defensively, and took that into today’s game, remembering what they taught us. This one was definitely for them today, and I felt them there tonight.”
Calvary Chapel twins Chloe and Cassandra Zazueta dedicated the Eagles’ win tonight v Anaheim to the memory of #KobeBryant and the fallen #Mambas who they played for and with, Bryant’s legacy w/ OC girls hoops keeps growing @ocvarsity 🏀 pic.twitter.com/KuqkCLRTbI
— Dan Albano (@ocvarsityguy) January 27, 2023
Chloe scored 12 points to join Cassandra (10 points) and Hanning (18 points) in double figures. Cassandra and Hanning added 18 and 12 rebounds, respectively. Hanning also had four steals for the Eagles (19-6), ranked 21st in Orange County and fifth in CIF-SS Division 3A.
Kovats came off the bench to sink two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help Calvary Chapel twice open a nine-point lead. Anaheim (19-6), ranked 25th in the county and 13th in Division 3A, got no closer than five points the rest of the way.
The Zazuetas played for Bryant in the seventh and eighth grade, passing a tryout to join the club.
“Kobe like us,” they recalled.
“It was an amazing experience,” Cassandra said. “Every game was always a packed crowd. He really talked us through everything, tried to get us through all his different lessons. He taught us a lot. He was for the kids.
“If you didn’t know who Kobe Bryant was, you would have never known he was a celebrity because he was cool with everybody. Treated everyone with respect. He was a great coach.”
The Zazuetas were invited to play with the Mambas the day that Bryant and eight others died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas en route to basketball game. The twins had an obligation with a shoe design venture and didn’t attend.
“It was just a really hard day for us,” Chloe said.
The sisters were especially close with the three Mamba players who died in the crash — Bryant’s daughter Gianna, Payton Chester and Alyssa Altobelli.
“They were like little sisters to us,” said Chloe, who donned a sweatshirt Thursday with a picture of the trio.
“We stayed after our practice with them and we just helped them form shoot … and just encouraged them.”
Junior Gisele Martinez paced Anaheim with 24 points.
The Colonists led 21-20 in the middle of the second quarter but Calvary Chapel finished the half on an 8-2 run sparked by its defense. Chloe assisted a fast-break basket by Lindsey Kobayashi and Cassandra added a layup on the fast-break.
“It felt like a playoff game,” Anaheim coach Vince Gomez said. “We made a few more mistakes than they did. They did a good job. We got a little antsy a times, a little trigger happy. We felt we needed to hit these big shots and we didn’t.”
Anaheim finished with two 3-pointers in its second game since making a school-record 20 in three periods against Century.