Competitive basketball made its return to the Santa Maria Valley Friday.

Hancock College women's basketball team hosted Cuesta for a legitimate indoor game, the first in the area since the coronavirus pandemic began last March.

Hancock's season has been delayed and shortened. High school basketball has been out of commission in the state since last March. There's been college basketball games at Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara since the winter.

But, amid the coronavirus pandemic, there's been no competition in Southern San Luis Obispo County or Northern Santa Barbara County for nearly a year.

The Hancock women ended that drought Friday afternoon and did so emphatically, enforcing their will on Cuesta in a 55-37 win. 

The game also marked the return of one particular player: Hancock sophomore Danielle Morgan, who missed all of the 2019-20 season with a torn labrum. She was dominant against a short-handed Cuesta team, which only had five players.

Morgan finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds. She also had three assists, two steals and a block.

"Oh God, it felt so great," Morgan said of being back on the floor. "I can't even put into words how great it is to be back on the court. It's been a year and a half and to be back with this group makes it even more special."

The 5-foot-10 Morgan made 7 of 16 shots and went 3 for 4 from 3-point range.

"I wasn't sure what to expect, I knew she would play hard," Nerelli said of Morgan. "As far as points and rebounds, I knew she was capable, we all knew she was capable. But I was surprised because I didn't know she had that many points and rebounds. She had a good defensive game, too."

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Three Hancock players scored in double-figures. Jayci Bayne had 11 points and Kayla Taylor, a freshman from Lompoc High, added 10 points, six rebounds and three steals. 

Cuesta relied on Derricka Milinghaus for nearly all its scoring. Millinghaus had 25 points. She accounted for eight of Cuesta's 13 made baskets and four of their five made 3-pointers.

Cuesta committed 16 turnovers and only had eight assists in the game. Hancock, meanwhile, committed 14 turnovers and dished out 16 assists.

"I think defensively we did better than I thought we would, since it's our first game," Nerelli said. "Offensively, we can be smoother. We took some shots that were ill-advised, but this is a first-game situation. The offense will get more efficient the deeper we get into the season."

Nerelli's team got to face Cuesta's zone defense which should help the Bulldogs the next time they face that in a live-game scenario.

Hancock is scheduled to play at home vs. Bakersfield on Thursday, March 11. The Bulldogs will then travel to Bakersfield for a game on the following day, Friday, March 11.

Friday's game was played in an empty Joe White Memorial Gymnasium. No spectators will be allowed at Hancock athletic events amid the coronavirus pandemic for the "foreseeable future," Hancock athletic director Kim Ensing said this week. 

"In one way it was surreal, because we've never had this situation before," Nerelli said of playing in empty arena. "But once the game got started, I didn't notice anything. I was focused like a laser on the game. I didn't notice the lack of fans, I didn't notice anything except for what was happening on the court." 

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