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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Texas 2011 Girls Basketball State Championships: More Than Just Great Games

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Photo Caption: The Irving MacArthur High School girls’ basketball team shows off their hardware after capturing the state championship for the Texas University Interscholastic League’s Class 5A, the largest schools in the state, with a 74-51 win over Austin’s Georgetown High School on March 5, 2011 in Austin, Texas.

Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Bob Corwin©

By Bob Corwin

While the eyes of the women’s basketball nation have been largely riveted on the college games for the past few weeks as conference championships and tournament selections have held the spotlight, there has been some pretty doggone good basketball going on at the preps level. Not the least of the latter held court in the great state of Texas as some of the best high school girls’ teams in the country duked it out in the state championships.

The joke around the nation is that they like everything big in Texas.  What perhaps is not so well known is the concern that the state’s athletic governing body (the University Interscholastic League, known simply as the
“UIL”) has for promoting good sportsmanship and honoring the history of girls’ basketball in their state, while at the same time putting on a first-class event run with the high level of professionalism you would find at a SEC or Big 12 Tournament.  This year, the event featured were 18 basketball games (semifinals Thursday and Friday and all six finals on Saturday) with an impressive amount of future college talent and a generous quantum of coaching prowess on display.

The event is held each year in early March at the Frank Erwin Center (capacity for basketball about 16,400) located on the University of Texas campus in Austin.  Unlike states such as Florida and Georgia, to name just two, it should be noted that only a few private schools participate under UIL auspices.  One thing you find present at the annual UIL tournament is a large number of fans from small towns, which dominate all but the 4A and 5A classifications.  This year nearby LBJ High School of Austin and Georgetown High School made the final in each of the two largest classes to help boost attendance totals to 6,124, 7,132 and 8,937 in the morning, afternoon and evening sessions respectively on championship Saturday. 

Another item present in Austin that seems to have gone missing at all too many other state tournaments was high school age fans.  It may surprise you, but in some states it has become the “thing” for teenagers not to support their girls’ basketball teams at the state finals level.  Thus, it was refreshing to see so many teenagers in the stands as well as on the court.

One thing that did not appear to be present at the UIL was the large number of college recruiters typically seen in the stands.  Usually the college scouts can be easily spotted as they intentionally sit apart from partisan fans.  Word on press row was that very few, besides hosting UT, were present at the UIL this year, probably due to conflicts with their own postseason tournament schedules and perhaps thanks to prior knowledge of the teams involved. 

While this year’s UIL event had relatively few high-major Division I players, it had an ample supply of lower Division I, as well as Division 2 and NAIA prospects, including unsigned seniors still seeking scholarship opportunities.

Before recapping the games themselves, let’s take a look at some of the intangibles of this event.
Sportsmanship was center stage throughout the event.

That sounds trite, doesn’t it?  Here was the difference.  At the end of each semifinal contest, both the winning and losing team lined up facing each other on opposite foul lines after the customary handshake lines at game’s end.  Instead of acknowledging only the winners, the winning team watched appreciatively as the losing squad was presented individual medals and a team plaque.  A UIL official addressed the losing team noting its accomplishments for the season, stressing the positives rather than the negatives.  Most losing teams even allowed a group photo to be shot after the speech.  After the finals of each class on Saturday, both the winners and losers got nets in addition to the awards given to the teams eliminated in the semifinals.  In America, the pendulum has swung so far in the direction of “finishing first is all that matters.”  Here success beyond a first-place finish was given proper recognition.  Kudos, UIL!

Honoring the past.

On championship Saturday, several championship teams from a decade ago were brought back to be recognized.  Each young lady from those teams was introduced with the master of ceremonies describing her role then and what she is doing now.  It was nice to hear the names of several young women who went on to be superior college players after their prep triumphs.  Too much of the history of women’s basketball is forgotten soon after it is made.  At least in Texas, an attempt to keep their prep history alive is ongoing.

Honoring the present.

At least some state governing bodies have, for whatever reason, stopped selecting all-tournament teams and naming MVPs.  The UIL, we’re told, names All-Tournament Teams after the fact but does announce an MVP in each of the classifications during the on-court awards ceremony.  The practice of naming an All-Tournament Team is a good one, as it allows superior individual effort to be properly acknowledged for winning teams and losing teams alike. Assuming an All-Tournament team is named, would not it be best to announce it as well during the tournament awards ceremony?

Striving for excellence in officiating.

Officiating. It’s often the bane of the women’s game, and the further down the age hierarchy you go, the worse it often gets. The UIL appears committed to doing something to improve the situation. Each game official wore a boxed number (like the NBA and WNBA) on the back of his or her (only a few women officiated in the event) jersey.  This afforded the ability to evaluate each official’s performance and then decide who would get to work one of the six Saturday championship games. 

In general, the order of the day was “let them play.”  Sure, there were calls and non-calls one might disagree with, but on the whole, the officiating was acceptable and didn’t decide any contests.  That’s usually as much as you can hope for.

The three most impressive players observed in the event.

Alexis Jones of Irving MacArthur High School is a highly skilled left-handed junior combo guard capable of playing either guard position.  She will likely be declared a McDonald’s All American next year.

At 6-4, Krystal Forthan of Georgetown High School (and an LSU commitment) is like a woman playing against girls.  Chosen as a McDonald’s All-American this year, the senior dominated in the semifinal against Alief Elsik (out of the Houston area), as Forthan posted 27 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks. Unfortunately, Forthan got into foul trouble in the 5A Final, and as a result, recorded a far more modest stat line in that game.

Peyton Little of Abilene Wylie HS is a junior combo guard (already orally committed to Texas). Little set a 3A Final record with 43 points.

Helpfulness and approachability of UIL officials.

Often tournament officials are as hard for reporters to find as the proverbial needle in the haystack once play gets underway, and at the high school level, even media liaisons are hard to come by. Thus, we werepleasantly surprised by the ease of access of UIL executives.  One took the time between sessions to explain the breakdown of the classes by enrollment in Texas.  Another discussed the program book with us, accepting our suggestion of adding player statistics for the teams involved to the book as an idea worthy of consideration.  Though in some areas, high school stats can be notoriously unreliable, Texas seems to do a credible job, and including stats in the program is something done elsewhere, giving well-deserved recognition to the student athletes of the teams in the event.

Besides the highly professional UIL media reps Stephanie Ramirez and Chris Schmidt, both of whom did a first class job, one person was my special hero at the event.  Phil Scott, an Erwin Center IT staffer, kept my computer online when it had ongoing trouble dealing with the strict UT internet protocols.  The man was always busy but somehow found time to deal with my nagging computer difficulties over the three days of the event.

Editor’s Note: A description of Bob Corwin’s computer would have to be filed under the topic of “Honoring the Past,” so we too extend our thanks to Mr. Scott.

On to the Championship Games.

Talking hoops, beginning with the smallest and going on through largest of the UIL classes, let’s recap the championship-day play.

Class 1A Championships

Class 1A includes 297 schools with enrollments of enrollment of 199 students or less. The Class is subdivided into the two smaller groups below.

Class 1A - Division 1 Final: Smyer 52, Martin’s Mill 49

Scope: Class 1A’s Division 1 includes schools with enrollments in grades 9-12 between 100 and 199.

Recap: This game was a re-match of last year’s state final.  The first quarter was very deliberate as both teams worked to crack the opponent’s match-up zone (popular here in the little schools), ending with Martin’s Mill (located east of Dallas) up 10-7, primarily thanks to three fewer turnovers.

In the second quarter, Smyer (from the Texas Panhandle) edged ahead on the basis of better inside scoring, finishing the half with Smyer up, 21-19. Martin’s Mill shot just 30 percent for the half, with Smyer shooting slightly less than 40 percent.

Out of the break, defending state champs Smyer widened their lead thanks to the inside domination of 6-0 forward Haley Fowler (junior) and 6-2 center Kennedy Farr (sophomore). Smyer controlled tempo, maintaining a slower pace than Martin’s Mill wanted.  Martin’s Mill switched to man defense, forcing several Smyer errors and the third quarter ended with the score knotted at 35.

With 7:17 left, Smyer’s star Fowler picked up her four foul with her team now trailing, 37-35, but she managed to play out the balance of the game without being tagged for a fifth. Conversely, Martin’s Mill’s top player, senior Emily Williams, a 5-8 guard who has committed to Wayland Baptist, picked up her fourth personal with her team down, 42-41, at the 4:14 mark and then fouled out with 2:27 left and Martin’s Mill still trailing, 45-43. This prompted Smyer coach Leland Bearden to jump up-and-down, sensing impending victory.

Bearden’s antennae were dead on, as Martin’s Mill never managed to even the score again. As time ran out, Mill’s 5-5 point guard Joanna Daniel, a senior, drove the key, forgetting that a three-ball was needed to tie.  Regardless, her shot missed and Smyer won its second state title in a row, finishing 35-2, while Martin’s Mill ended 39-4, once again finishing as the state runner up.

Smyer’s Fowler was named MVP of the championship in this division, thanks to her 27-point,12-rebound double-double. Farr contributed 17 points and six rebounds.

For Martin’s Mill, Williams finished with a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds, while 5-9 wing Haily Jenkins, a sophomore, added 19 points and eight rebounds for the losing side.

Class 1A – Division 2 Final: Neches 65, Whitharral 44

Scope: Division 2 of Class 1A encompasses the micro schools with enrollments of fewer than 100.

Recap: This game was a blowout from the start.  Neches (located southeast of Dallas) has an NCAA Division I prospect in their super-quick point guard Roddricka Patton, a 5-3 junior, and the rest just flowed from there.  By half, Neches held a 36-12 lead,thanks to Patton and a press that forced 18 turnovers in the half and that Whitharral (from the Texas Panhandle) struggled to break.

The second half saw some sloppy play but the Neches lead was never threatened.  Patton was named the Finals’ MVP for this class after finishing with 20 points, seven boards, eight assists and seven steals to dominate the contest.  She should have had more assists thanks to great passes to the block, but she does need to work on her handles, coughing up six turnovers in this game. 

Photo Caption: Neches High School point guard Roddricka Patton (5-3, junior) awaits a radio interview at the Texas Class 1A-Division 2 state championship in Austin, Texas. Patton was named Finals’ MVP for her division after leading her team, from a school with a total enrollment of fewer than 100 students, to the title with an impressive 20 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, and seven steals.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Bob Corwin©

Back-to-back state champion Neches finished its season 37-4, while Whitharral, making its trip to the state Final Four, ended its season 30-8.

Class 2A Final: Brock 47, Winnsboro 26

Scope: Class 2A includes a total of 229 schools with enrollment between 200-429.

Recap: Once again, it helped to have the one NCAA Division I player in the game.  Here, that was Brock’s 5-8 guard Kamy Cole, a junior who has orally committed to Oklahoma. Cole outscored the entire Winnsboro (located northeast of Dallas) team, 6-to-5 in quarter one as her Brock (located west of Dallas) team led, 12-5, heading into quarter two.

Not much changed in the second period as Brock maintained a 22-13 lead at the end of the stanza. Both teams were playing man defense, sagging on the back side.  Only Cole reached double figures in the half, with 10 points, most of them netted on drives to the basket.
Brock just about put the bow on this one, outscoring its opponent, 14-to-1, in the third quarter. To this point, Winnsboro had been shooting 12.1 percent (four-for-33) from the field, to Brock’s 48.1-percent field-goal shooting.

With Brock leading, 36-14, the fourth quarter was just a matter of playing out the clock.  Brock pulled off a three-peat as state champs, finishing the season at 35-5. Cole led all players in scoring with 21 points on 6/15 from the field, taking home well-deserved Finals MVP honors for this class. Six-one center Paige Parliament (a senior who has signed with Abilene Christian) came close to a double-double with 13 points and nine boards.

Only 6-0 junior forward Hayley Cox reached double figures (10 points) for Winnsboro, which ended its season an impressive 33-7 but was outclassed on this day.

Class 3A Final: Abilene Wylie 66, Lucas Lovejoy 58

Scope: Class 3A includes a total of 190 schools with enrollments between 430 and 989.

Recap: The first quarter pitted the balanced of Lucas Lovejoy (located north of Dallas), who had four players scoring, against Wylie star (and Texas oral commitment) Peyton Little, who posted all nine of her team’s points in the quarter while Lovejoy’s box-and-one defense.

“The Peyton Little Show” continued in the second quarter, as she added 11 points while shooting a solid six-of-11 from the field and seven-of-nine from the charity stripe.  Lovejoy was led for the half by 5-8 guard Mille Rivera, a senior, with seven points.

In the third quarter, Lovejoy repeatedly pressed Wylie in the backcourt but despite forcing several turnovers, could not profit, trailing 43-33 after three. 

Four times in the closing quarter, Lovejoy cut the lead to five and once (at 5:13) to three, as Little was not getting much scoring help in the early minutes of the period.  But in the end, it was too much Peyton Little, who was named Finals MVP in this weight class after finishing with 43 points.

Photo Caption: Finals MVP Peyton Little singlehandedly put up nearly two-thirds of Abilene Wylie High School’s 66 points, posting 43 in the Texas Class 3A state championship final.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Bob Corwin©

Lucas Lovejoy was led by 6-0 senior center Courtney Smith’s 13 points and eight boards.

Abilene Wylie, which was also last year’s runner-up, finished 26-14, while Lucas Lovejoy closed out at 29-11.

Class 4A Final: Canyon 44, Austin LBJ 39

Scope: Class 4A contains a total of 241 schools whose enrollments range from 990 to 2,064.

Recap: The best game of the day was a classic match-up that pitted Canyon’s control versus LBJ’s superior athleticism and talent.  To win, Canyon (from the Texas Panhandle) had to keep the pace fairly deliberate, avoid run outs and rebound the ball against a far more athletic and more individually talented LBJ team. The Lady Eagles did all three in the early going, taking a 12-7 lead to the first turn by shooting the ball better than its opponent.

Photo Caption: The Canyon High School girls’ basketball team displays their medals and trophies after capturing the Texas state championship for the UIL’s Class 4A. With the win, Canyon closed out a perfect 38-0 season, making them the third team in school history to register an undefeated season.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Bob Corwin©

In the second quarter, control was less in evidence, as Canyon turned the ball over seven times and (unlike the first quarter) surrendered a few points due to these errors. Austin LBJ cut the lead to three (19-16) by the break, but the scoring pace was still what Canyon was looking for.

For the half, Canyon out-rebounded its opponent, 15-to-12, but lost the turnover battle, 14-to-10. Still, Canyon was shooting 40 percent from the field to a modest 25 percent for LBJ.  No player on either side had yet reached double figures by the break.

In the third quarter, LBJ sped the game up, shooting more quickly while continuing to play their triangle-and-two, making it difficult for Canyon to score.  LBJ’s 5-10 forward Alexis Hyder, a junior, came active with 10 points in the period, allowing her Jaguars to seize a 21-19 lead at the 6:41 point of this frame.  The school, located just seven miles from the Erwin Center in Austin, led for most of the period.  However, a pair of threes by junior guard Shayla Montreal (5-6) in the last two minutes allowed Canyon to wrest back control, 33-31, by the end of three quarters.

In the final stanza, the score was tied three times but LBJ could never move ahead. The key stat of the period may have been foul shooting, as Canyon made five-of-six from the charity stripe, while LBJ netted just two-of-six. 

After the game, LBJ Coach Marsha Brown expressed disappointment in the lack of on-court offensive cooperation between her post players. She also felt her team let Canyon senior 5-10 guard Nicole Hampton, a senior and the Finals MVP, who finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and five steals, touch the ball too often.

Photo Caption: Canyon’s Nicole Hampton was named Finals MVP after leading her team to the state championship with a double-double of 10 points and 10 boards, plus five steals, but Canyon’s strength was its balance.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Bob Corwin©

LBJ was led by Hyder, who tallied 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists, five blocks and three steals but also committed 10 turnovers.

This was Canyon Coach Joe Lombard’s 13th state championship at Canyon and the 1,100th win in his illustrious career.  Post-game, he credited his assistants with drawing up a brand new offense at the half to counter LBJ’s bothersome triangle-and-two.  Finishing its season 38-0, this group became the third undefeated team in Canyon High School history (previously 1978 and 1996).

Photo Caption: Canyon High School girls’ basketball head coach Joe Lombard (center) takes a radio interview after his charges won the Texas Class 4A state championship to close out their season undefeated at 38-0. Lombard is one of the nation’s premiere prep coaches; the championship game marked his 1,100th career win.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Bob Corwin©

Austin LBJ ended the 2010-11 season at 28-5.

Class 5A Final: Irving MacArthur 74, Georgetown 51

Scope: The UIL’s Class 5A embraces a total of 245 schools with enrollments of 2,065 and above.

Recap: The nightcap of championship Saturday was supposed to feature a duel between two of the top girls’ high school players in the nation, MacArthur’s 5-9 point guard Alexis Jones, a junior, and Georgetown’s 6-4 power forward/center Krystal Forthan, a senior who has committed to attend LSU.  Instead, it was all the “Alexis Jones Show” as the MacArthur star notched a rare triple-double to earn Class 5A’s Finals MVP honors,  and recognition as Full Court’s star of the entire event.

Photo Caption: Irving MacArthur’s Alexis Jones took home the Finals MVP trophy after leading her team to the 2011 Texas state championship for UIL’s Class 5A. Jones, a 5-9 point guard and a junior, also got Full Court’s nod as the MVP of the entire event after posting a rare triple-double of 25 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists in the championship game.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Bob Corwin©

The key to the first quarter was that the much ballyhooed Jones-Forthan showdown never fully got going right from the outset.  While the 5-9 Jones went five-of-nine for 13 points in the stanza, power forward/center Krystal Forthan was an ice-cold one-for-eight with just three points to her credit. The result: A 22-14 MacArthur lead by the end of the quarter. 

Things only got worse for Georgetown in the second period as Forthan picked up her third foul at the 4:52 mark and went to the bench until the third quarter.  Meanwhile, Jones continued to have her way, now piling up assists (seven for the half), allowing 5-10 junior forward Khoria Newman to post 11 points, many of them finished off a Jones creation.  No Georgetown player was yet in double figures as they trailed, 40-23, at the break.
With Forthan back in the line-up, Georgetown went toe-to-toe with MacArthur in the third period, but still fell backwards a point to a 60-42 deficit after three periods.

MacArthur, getting showy with the big lead, got sloppy in the final stanza but Georgetown could get no closer than 17 (65-48 at the 4:51 mark). One benchmark of the pace: MacArthur had 19 points off fast breaks to only six for Georgetown.

Jones finished with 25 points on 10-of-24 from the field, making it a triple-double with 11 rebounds and 14 assists (to only four turnovers).

Forthan led Georgetown with 14 points on six-of-19 from the field, double-doubling with 14 rebounds and adding four blocks.

Photo Caption: Georgetown High School’s Krystal Forthan (No. 55), one of the top five women’s basketball recruits in the Class of 2011, lines up between teammates Amanda Bizzell (No. 52) and Alex Larsen (No. 44) in a post-game ceremony unique to Texas’s UIL honoring the losing teams and players in the state championship games for their accomplishments over the course of the season. Forthan, a 6-4 power forward/center and McDonald’s All-American who has committed to attend LSU next year, led Georgetown with a double-double of 14 points and 14 rebounds, plus four blocks, but would be no match for MacArthur’s Alexis Jones on this night.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Bob Corwin©

Irving MacArthur (from just northwest of Dallas) finished its season at 37-2, while Georgetown (located just north of Austin) closed out at 33-4.

Originally published Wed, March 16, 2011

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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
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5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
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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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