Jim Ricci and his Archbishop Wood girls' basketball players don't play basketball for the games in December. And they don't play for the games in January, or even in the first week or two of February.

So that opening-season win over Bishop Ford? Yeah, it was nice. And losing only once during the Catholic League regular season? That was good, too.

But the Vikings have bigger things in mind, such as defending their Class AAA state championship.

Saturday at Archbishop Carroll, they took their first step toward that, defeating Pope John Paul II, 60-39, in the opening round of the PIAA tournament.

The Vikings have gotten used to playing important basketball games in late February and in March, but a decisive victory such as Saturday's wasn't a given considering their recent struggles. They had suffered back-to-back losses to Cardinal O'Hara and Prep Charter.

Ricci said that he thought his team had looked tired the past few games, so he mixed things up a bit, using a 10-player rotation and subbing in five players at a time every few minutes for most of the game.

The change had a dramatic effect, as Wood ran up and down the floor at warp speed.

"We've been practicing transition a lot," senior guard Jackie Pierson said. Every single practice during our scrimmages, it's push, push, push. That's how we have succeeded the past couple of years, and we haven't been doing that this year."

Wood (18-9), ranked fifth in Southeastern Pennsylvania by The Inquirer, dominated from the opening tip, beginning the game on a 22-0 run.

The Golden Panthers (15-7) couldn't get past Wood's full-court man defense and struggled with their offensive sets. The Vikings led, 50-16, after three quarters.

"We played horrendous our past few games," Pierson said. "We can't play like that if we want to win states, so we had to do something."

Wood will continue the quest for its fourth straight state title on Wednesday, when it faces Lancaster Catholic, which won its first-round game in double overtime.

Pope John Paul II   0 8 8 23 – 39

Archbishop Wood   22 17 11 10 – 60

PJP: Haley Mesaros 15, Taylor Bearden 6, Kelly Moore 5, Gabby Troisi 5, Ellen Chernasky 4, Lauren Dao 2, Kelly Romberger 2.

AW: Madison Tamburini 13, Jackie Pierson 9, Brittany Keyes 7, Laura Trisch 6, Rachel Day 5, Aubree Brown 3, Colleen Young 3, Emily Kiersnowski 3, Julia Cummiskey 2, Jess Kaminski 2, Haley Scullion 2, Jane Arcidiacono 2, Aly Baggitt 2, Catey McFadden 1.

Contact Kate Harman at rallysports@phillynews.com.