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Friday, July 19, 2019

Nike Tournament of Championship Semis Give Fans, Coaches a Night to Remember

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Photo Caption: (Left) Alexis Riley-Perry of Brea Olinda High School (CA) heads for the hoop in the final seconds of regulation with the score against Bolingbrook High School (IL) tied at 43 apiece and a chance for the winning bucket in the semifinals of the Nike Tournament of Champions’ elite Joe Smith Division on Tuesday. (Right) Riley-Perry (white, No. 15) takes a tumble after heaving up the off-balance shot, while Bolingbrook’s Morgan Tuck (black, No. 44) and Cabriana Capers (black, No. 50) react with dismay at their apparent loss when the shot, amazingly, drops at the buzzer. Moments later, their expressions turned to relief when the officials waved off the bucket on a traveling violation. Brea hung on to win, 59-54, in double overtime and will face California’s Long Beach Poly on Wednesday for the unofficial girls’ high school basketball national title.

Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

By Kenny Kallina

While the first two days of the Nike Tournament of Champions had plenty of talent on display, many of the games in the early going have been lopsided and rather uncompetitive. But while this year’s Tournament of Championships may have lacked some of the great early-round games that have typified the NCAA Tournament in recent years, Tuesday night’s semifinals did not disappoint, as high school players, coaches, college coaches, and fans and families packed into Hamilton High School to witness the best night of girls’ high school basketball so far this year. If there were any doubt about the state of the game, the naysayers were silenced on Tuesday night with two epic semifinal battles between some of the top female ballers in the country in the event’s elite Joe Smith Division.

The first of those games featured two Southern California programs with a lot of reputation and pride. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, CA), the darling of Southern California and the consensus No. 1 girls’ high school basketball team in the country coming into the tournament, boasts three players on the USA Basketball U17 Women’s World Championship national team roster—6-0 senior guard Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the country by several services, and 6-1 forward Alexyz Vaioletama, also a senior, who missed last season due to injury, and 6-1 point guard Jordan Adams, a junior. The Monarchs, who are the reigning national champs, appeared all but set to collect their second consecutive Nike Tournament of Champions trophy.

Unfortunately for them, there were three people who stood in the way of that - Carl Buggs (Head Coach, Long Beach Poly), and his two top players, Sheila Boykin (6-1 forward/center, Long Beach Poly) and Ariya Crook-Williams (5/7 guard, Long Beach Poly), both seniors. Together, they over came a classic first-half performance by Mosqueda-Lewis that saw her go eight-for-10 from the field for 25 points—including five three-pointers—in the opening half alone. (To put that in perspective, given the sometimes low-scoring pace of many high school basketball games, there are several teams in this elite field that have failed to manage 25 points in the entire game, and that’s as a team.)

Photo Caption: Mater Dei High School’s Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis showed why she’s the top girls’ basketball recruit in the class of 2011 in Tuesday’s semifinal of the Nike Tournament of Champions. Showing no signs of the ankle sprain that had hobbled her Monday, the Connecticut-bound Mosqueda-Lewis simply dominated, putting up 25 points in the first half alone and finishing with a game-high 33. The impressive effort would not be enough, however, as Long Beach Poly hung on for a 61-56 win and a trip to Wednesday’s championship game against local rival, Brea Olinda.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee MIchaelson©

Leading 35-28 at halftime, Mater Dei’s seemed on the brink of trouncing the Jackrabbitts to advance to Wednesday’s championship final. That’s until Poly’s Crook-Williams stepped up and answered Mosqueda-Lewis’s phenomenal first-half performance with 13 points in the third quarter and nine more in the final quarter, including some clutch free throws down the stretch. Poly put together a 18-7 third quarter that saw their seven-point halftime deficit evaporate and headed into the fourth quarter leading by four.

Crook-Williams was one of the few kids we’ve seen who is able to jab step, pull back and hit shots with some accuracy. You could see University of Southern California head coach Michael Cooper and his assistant (and son) Michael Cooper, Jr., were all smiles as they sat among the many coaches from elite programs sitting in the stands watching Crook-Williams’s performance transform the game. Crook-Williams committed to USC this summer, and Cooper has said that he’s on a mission to keep more of California’s talent at home.

Photo Caption: Long Beach Poly’s Ariya Crook-Williams gets some hang time as she takes it to the hole for two of her team-high 24 points, that helped Poly to a semifinal upset over top-ranked Mater Dei Tuesday at the Nike Tournament of Champions. Crook-Williams, a senior, will head to USC when her playing days are done.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson

Crook-Williams finished the game with 24 points, while Mosqueda-Lewis led all scorers with 33, as Long Beach Poly pulled out a 61-56 win and book a long-awaited appearance in Wednesday’s Joe Smith Division final of the Nike Tournament of Champions, concerned by many to constitute the unofficial national championship of girls’ high school basketball. (Poly’s coach Carl Buggs told Full Court last year that he feels “jinxed” when his team enters the tournament at the top of the rankings, since it seems something always transpires to frustrate their pursuit of that elusive title.).

Still, as Crook-Williams and Mosqueda-Lewis starred, there were other hot recruits who were noticeably absent. Mater Dei’s top-five 2012 player Jordan Adams scored only six points, shooting just two-for-nine from the field and missing three huge free throws in crunch time. Vaioletama also struggled, finishing with eight points on only five attempts from the field. At the other end of the floor, Poly got some valuable production from its other big talent, Sheila Boykin, who overshadowed the Monarchs’ two All Americans with 16 points of her own.

Photo Caption: Poly also has 6-1 forward/center Sheila Boykin to thank for their trip to the championship game. Boykin put up 16 points to help Poly come from behind for a 61-56 semifinal win over Mater Dei, singlehandedly outscoring the combined production of two of the Monarchs’ high school All Americans.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee MIchaelson©

Semifinal number two saw Bolingbrook of Illinois take on Brea Olinda of Southern California; both teams came into the tournament ranked in the top five in the country.

In the first half, Brea and Bolingbrook basically played to a standstill, with Brea holding a slight advantage (22-21) at the half. Brea’s Ladycats and Bolingbrook’s Raiders have very different make-ups and approaches to their teams. The Ladycats are more evenly balanced; in the first half, for example, five different players contributed to Brea’s 22-point tally. The Raiders are more heavily dependent on their two stars—5-6 point guard Ariel Massengale, a senior, and 6-2 wing Morgan Tuck, a junior, both among the top-ranked recruits in the country and both members of USA Basketball’s U17 Women’s World Championship Team. Tuck and Massengale accounted for 15 of the Raiders’ 21 first-half points.

In the first half, Brea went out playing man-to-man which gained them a slight advantage but in the second half they switched to zone, causing a whole world of problems for the Raiders. Nonetheless, by the end of three, Bolingbrook had established a two-point lead (34-32) behind Massengale who scored nine of the Raiders’ 13 third-quarter points.

In the fourth quarter, as in much as the game, the lead swung back and forth. Bolingbrook, in particular, seemed to be struggling a bit, as Massengale, seemingly tiring from carrying so much of the load for the Raiders for so much of the game, did not score a single field goal in the fourth quarter, but recorded her only two points of the period at the free-throw line, where she went two-for-six for the period. Still, with three seconds left in regulation, the score stood tied with Bolingbrook in possession. After a Tony Smith timeout, Bolingbrook threw the ball out of bounds, giving Brea a chance for the win.

And for a moment, it looked as though the Ladycats had done it. Brea’s Alexis Riley-Perry took the ball to the basket, finishing with a floater that ripped the nets just as time expired. The crowd went wild. But just as the celebration began, the slot official dramatically ran to half court and waved off the basket with a traveling call that sent half the stands into an even bigger frenzy. (Indeed, one passionate but foul-mouthed Brea diehard nearly got himself ejected after repeated forays to the scorers’ table to hurl abuse at the officials.)

To their credit, the players and coaches on both teams took things in stride as the game headed into extra minutes.  In the first overtime Brea led by as many as four, but they wasted away that lead, giving Bolingbrook its second chance to win the game. It was not to be, however, Poly’s Justine Hartman swatted down Morgan Tuck’s shot as time expired.

The game entered its second overtime nearly two hours after the ball had first been tipped. But Bolingbrook was running out of gas. Brea’s balance and its zone defense simply wore out the Raiders, who just couldn’t seem to get the ball in the hole during the fourth quarter and into overtime. Cumulatively, Bolingbrook scored just 20 points in the fourth and two extra periods. The wear-and-tear were particularly tough on Bolingbrook’s two stars. In the final overtime period, Massengale did not score and Morgan Tuck only had two points until, with under a minute left and the game already out of reach, she knocked down a long trey, leaving her just two-for-five from the field with five points to show for the final overtime period. Indeed, the slowdown had begun as early as the fourth quarter of regulation—Massengale scored only two points between the beginning of the fourth period and the final buzzer; Tuck scored 11 in that time frame, but shot only five-of-13 from the field. Still no one else on the Raiders’ squad stepped up to fill the void left as their stars struggled—together, Massengale and Morgan Tuck accounted for 13 of Bolingbrook’s 20 points for the combined fourth quarter and two extra periods.

Meanwhile, the Brea offense in the second half and overtime minutes continued to demonstrate the team’s balance. Brea’s Hartman had 10 points in that time frame; Jeanier Olukemi, who did not score a single point until the first overtime, finished with nine points, most of them at the foul line where she went seven-for-nine; Riley-Perry had six points in the back half of the game; and Taylor Spears and Keitra Wallace had five apiece in that same span. 

For all of that, Bolingbrook may have reason to be disappointed as they head into Wednesday third-place match against Mater Dei, but they have nothing to be ashamed of. You could not fault anyone on the Raiders’ team—stars and role players alike—for lack of effort as they continued to battle right down to the final buzzer.

In the end, however, it was the Ladycats who notched the 59-54 double-overtime win that secured their berth for what will be an all-California (indeed, all Southern California) final, as Brea takes on Long Beach Poly. Some would give Brea the edge in that meeting—they are higher ranked, and the Ladycats have already defeated the Jackrabbits by seven points earlier this season in a tournament hosted by Brea. But the past need not be the future: If Crook-Williams can replicate Tuesday night’s semifinal performance, it’s going to be a long night for Brea. Brea has the athletes to defend Crook-Williams but their strategy and execution will have to be much different from the passive zone they played with success against Bolingbrook and Massengale. For it’s part, Poly has to stay out of foul trouble and play really solid half-court defense, given Brea’s multiple scoring threats. Poly’s press will likely be ineffective against Brea’s Riley-Perry, who’s really been the anchor for the Ladycats in the backcourt and has to be one of the top unsigned seniors left in the class of 2011.

Prediction: These teams are both too good to bet the house on either of them, but if forced to choose, we would expect Poly’s stars to shine bright and overcome their Southern California neighbors Wednesday night in a 60-57 win over Brea in what has all the ingredients to be a hard-fought thriller of a final.

Meanwhile, while some may have predicted (or even wished)  to see Bolingbrook versus Mater Dei square off for the championship, they are going to get what they asked for but in a different venue, the third-place game. Though it may be for the “bronze,” that game will be another “must-see”, featuring five players from the USA Basketball U17 World Championship national team and at least a dozen sound Division I recruits.

Originally published Wed, December 22, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.