Standing against the back wall of his gym, beanie pulled over his brow, Modesto Christian coach Robb Spencer could see — with crystal-clear clarity — trouble on the horizon.
“There she is,” he said, pointing toward Beyer senior guard Alicia Jones, a thorn in his side the last three years.
To be absolutely certain, Jones bludgeons and guts teams without prejudice. With speed, style and supreme body control, she slices through the defense, infuriating opposing coaches with her ability to create a shot for herself and others.
"She's a good one," Spencer said.
With Jones at the controls, the Patriots (14-5) have climbed into the conversation of the region’s top programs, regardless of division. Beyer ascended to the rank of Modesto Metro Conference co-champion in 2017 by sweeping the once-unbeatable Crusaders, and once again find themselves in a title chase.
The Patriots are one game back of Lathrop in the new-look Western Athletic Conference, and Jones has been the catalyst for coach San Kao. Beyer attacks with 12 players, a lineup spiced with guards and decent height on the block, but make no mistake about it ...
Jones provides the fear factor.
She is trouble on everyone's horizon.
Going into Saturday's games, Jones was second in the region in scoring, trailing only Livingston three-sport dynamo Annie Winton. She is averaging 24.4 points per game, despite double and triple teams, and has scored in double figures in all but one game. She has seven outings with at least 30 points, including a season-high 40 in a victory over Davis on Jan. 8.
"She's going to have to work through it," Kao said of the special attention. "That's been kind of new. She's going to have to adjust to it. Me, too. It's new to me, because I've never had a player of that caliber with that kind of pressure."
On Saturday, Modesto Christian paid her the game’s ultimate complement — the Crusaders face-guarded Jones, sometimes picking her up full-court.
It worked. Sort of. The Crusaders prevailed 66-47, holding Jones below her season average and frustrating her late. Still, her presence was felt.
"Coming into this (game), Robb said she was there No. 1 and we needed to focus on her and know where she is at all times," Modesto Christian senior Alison Tilbury said. "That's what we tried to do. We tried to keep her under her 20-plus."
Jones finished with a game-high 19 points, including 13 in the second half. She also had eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.
She keyed a small run early in the second quarter. Beyer trailed 13-12 after the first period, but surged into the lead on Jones' rebound and quick outlet. The transition layup gave the Patriots a 16-13 advantage, its last of the game.
"With her speed and her awareness, it's a great plus for her on the court," Kao said.
Jones has ramped up her production in her senior season — her scoring, rebounding, assist and steal averages have jumped — but Kao believes her leadership will write the final chapter for the Patriots.
Like most programs on the rise, Beyer struggles with its identity, especially in big games. It’s in those moments, Kao needs his longest tenured player, his MVP candidate, to be a steadying force.
“Sometimes they get scared playing tougher teams. I always have to repeat myself, telling them they’re better than they think they are,” Kao said. “They’re still young and inexperienced. Even though I’ve been here at Beyer five or six years, she’s the first girl to come with me. … Her ability to relate to the other players is a big plus, even though she got frustrated toward the end.”
Follow James Burns on Twitter @jburns1980, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.