CHANDLER, Ariz. –
"Coming into this tournament," said Katie Lou Samuelson
, "we really didn't know what we could do."
Now, however, it's crystal clear what Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
can do, as the Monarchs claimed their third-straight Nike TOC Joe Smith Division title by upsetting Blackman (Murfreesboro, Tenn.)
53-44 at Hamilton High School Monday night.
Well, maybe it wasn't an upset, as Mater Dei and Samuelson (who will go to UConn next year) continually come through on what many consider the biggest national stage in girls' basketball. This time, Samuelson scored 36 points, including 25 in the first half (with 6-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc) to give the Southern Californians a lead they never lost. Fittingly, it was a Samuelson 3-pointer that opened the scoring, and her third in the first five minutes put Mater Dei up 12-3, and Blackman never got closer than seven thereafter.
Blackman's star guard,
, was thwarted by Mater Dei's zones and sagging man-to-man, and Alex Johnson
, who had scored 34 the night before against St. Mary's of Stockton, was held to just eight.
"They've got length," said Blackman coach Chad Hibdon, "and they kept Alex from getting easy looks."
Dangerfield finished with 14, but she was ineffective from the perimeter, and Mater Dei kept the Blaze from scoring in transition by cutting down on its turnovers.
"We had 26 turnovers Saturday," said Mater Dei coach Kevin Kiernan, "so we watched a lot of film and cleaned some stuff up."
Kiernan couldn't have planned for Andee Velasco's
three-quarter court, banked-in 3-pointer that ended the first half and put Mater Dei up 32-20, but then again he couldn't have expected his team to go more than eight minutes with just one basket. After Ally Rosenblum
put Mater Dei up 34-22 with seven minutes left in the third quarter, all the Monarchs could muster for the next 8:22 was a pair of Samuelson free throws and a mid-range jumper – but Blackman sputtered as well, and couldn't take advantage of its best chance to cut the deficit.
"There wasn't much rhythm on either side of the ball," said Hibdon, but when Johnson scored at the start of the fourth quarter to make it 38-31 and Mater Dei turned the ball over against Blackman's desperate pressure, the momentum seemed ready to shift. But then freshman Nikki Freeman
found herself open in the right corner and calmly buried a three – her only basket of the game – and the lead was 10 once again.
Then it was up to Velasco and Samuelson, both seniors, to lead the relatively young roster the rest of the way, and they did just that. "Andee does a great job," said Kiernan, but he recognized how much of a burden she and Samuelson must carry.
"We're shooting for March," said Kiernan (that's when the California state championships are). "We came here to grow and this is a great step."
It was also another great performance by Samuelson, and the third-straight title was a fitting end for a player who has, to paraphrase the TOC T-shirts, dominated while the world was watching.
Horizon Christian Academy (San Diego) 60, West Campus (Sacramento, Calif.) 58
It looked like Horizon Christian would roll in this one, leading by 10 at half, but when Dijonai Carrington
(31 points) got in foul trouble, West Campus battled back to force overtime in the Black Division final. But Horizon Christian's Taylor Williams
scored at the buzzer to win, despite the efforts of freshman Kiara Jefferson
(20 points) and sophomore Namiko Adams
(26) for West Campus.Lutheran (Parker, Colo.) 69, Clovis West (Fresno, Calif.) 60Morgan Barone
made three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter as unbeaten Lutheran pulled away from gritty Clovis West in the Gray Division final. Kaleigh Paplow
added 15 for the winners while Megan Anderson
had 16 for the Californians.Horizon (Thornton, Colo.) 48, La Jolla Country Day (Calif.) 37
Six-foor-2 Alyssa Rader
scored 17 points and controlled the paint at both ends to lead Horizon past La Jolla Country Day in the Mike Desper final. Horizon led most of the way but the young Torreys hung tough throughout. Mai-Loni Henson led LJCD with 16 while Lauren Bennett
had 12 for Horizon.Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.) 37, Windward (Los Angeles) 33
In a battle of two traditional Southern California powers, Brea outlasted Windward in the John Anderson championship game. Reili Richardson
topped Brea with 14 and Emily Surloff
led Windward with 10 but points were hard to come by all afternoon.