Sometimes, I pick a girls basketball game to cover that I expect to be a dandy, and it turns out to be a dud.
And then there are nights like Wednesday, when I ventured out to Liberty of Renton for the first time in several years to see the Pats take on second-ranked Juanita in what turned out to be a dynamite Class 3A showdown.
I apologize for anyone trying to follow the game on twitter, because I lost my internet connection in the third quarter. So, in case you missed it, No. 9 Liberty pulled a 61-54 upset, handing the Rebels their first loss of the season.
I wound up having to file my story in the parking lot, where I got a little bit of an internet connection, and you can read my story here.
But I wanted to follow up a little bit more in this week’s edition of Post-Ups, my weekly girls basketball blog. And I also thought I’d get some details on the other score that grabbed my attention from Wedensday: Kamiak 51, Arlington 48.
That also was the first lost of the season for the Eagles, ranked No. 8 in Class 4A. And Kamiak was just barely above .500 going in (7-6). So I’ll have more on that later in this post.
But first, let me delve more into that Liberty-Juanita bout.
I knew the Patriots (now 10-3) were playing very well under first-year head coach Curtis Terry, who was an assistant at Auburn Riverside last season. They ended 2013 with a 59-48 victory over Everett, then ranked No. 3 in the state. They started 2014 with a 50-47 win over Bellevue, which had since moved into that No. 3 spot.
And the first game between the two, back on Dec. 6 at Juanita, went to overtime before the Rebels prevailed 68-64. Liberty’s other two losses came against 4A teams – Newport (50-46) and Monroe (51-37).
But I’d heard so many good things about Juanita and was looking forward to checking out 5-foot-8 freshman Tea Adams, who leads a balanced scoring attack at 16.2 points per game (plus 3.3 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 2.7 assists).
First thing in the gym door, with the JV game just starting the fourth quarter, I saw Juanita coach Sam Lee and we got a chance to chat. He told me that Adams likely wouldn’t play because she strained her labrum in Monday’s key 57-51 win over Bellevue.
Lee said Adams had been cleared by her doctor to play, but had told him the left shoulder (taped just in case) was very sore, and he didn’t want to risk further injury. So, she sat. At first next to him, and later at the end of the bench, cheering her team on.
The game was close throughout with neither team leading by more than seven. The Rebels had a 19-12 advantage early in the second quarter after Shalexxus Aaron hit a jumper near the top of the key. Aaron, a lanky 6-1 freshman with mad skillstheir other talented freshman who is a lanky 6-1 with mad skills, had seven points in the first 11 minutes before Terry threw a box-and-one defense on her.
“Against a player like Shalexxus, she’s only a freshman, you have to give her something she hasn’t seen a lot of,” he said. “Obviously it’s tough to guard her one-on-one because she’s got so many different weapons….We tired to give her a different look and force somebody else to make some baskets against us.”
It worked for the most part as Aaron had just one more basket the rest of the way, although it was a big one – a three-pointer that cut Liberty’s lead to 56-52 with 48 seconds to play.
But the Patriots were able to close out the victory at the free-throw line, making 5 of 6 – and the one miss was rebounded by Rebekah Campbell, who kept the ball in Liberty’s possession. She was a perfect 4-for-4 at the line in the final 40 seconds – after missing a pair with just under five minutes to go and Juanita up 44-41 – and finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.
Campbell, a 6-foot senior who had a career high 22 points in the win over Bellevue, struggled offensively for much of the game, but scored nine of her points in the final 2 minutes and 10 seconds, starting with a long 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down.
“She persevered and showed a lot of character to step up and fight through the adversity,” Terry said.
Fellow senior Ashlan Applegate was also key with 16 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. She scored keyed a decisive, 10-0 run in the final four minutes with five points as the Patriots erased a 46-43 deficit.
Juanita leaned heavily on 6-3 junior Jaisa Nunn, who responded with a game-high 23 points, hitting 10 of 15 shots from the field – inside and out. I was quite impressed with her play and she’s someone you should see play at the next level.
“It’s tough to stop all of their big guns like that, but as long as they don’t all go off, we’ll have a good chance,” Terry said.
That they did, and the Patriots seized that opportunity.
“We just found a way to grind it out and get a win against a really good team,” he said.
Lee was very gracious after the loss, crediting the Liberty players for their efforts. He didn’t use Adams’ absence as an excuse.
“They were just better than us and the beat us, that was the deal,” he said. “I don’t know if it would have made any difference with her in there.”
The two teams likely will meet in the KingCo tournament. And it should be an interesting second half of league play to get there. The Rebels still are atop the conference by a half game at 7-1, followed by Liberty (6-1), Mercer Island (6-2) and Bellevue (5-3), which has last three straight but can’t be counted out.
And then comes what should be an even better Sea-King District tourney that no-doubt will include top-ranked Cleveland along with other quality teams like No. 4 Bishop Blanchet at No. 5 Holy Names.
It’s going to be an entertaining run to the state tournament, no doubt.
Kamiak gets Arlington’s attention
Brian Norman has been trying to get his Kamiak players to believe in themselves.
Last night’s win over the Eagles just might have done the trick.
“The issue with us has just been confidence,” said Norman, who took over as head coach this season after eight years as an assistant. “We want them not to worry so much about mistakes, even though we know mistakes are going to happen. We just want them to go out there and play hard, work together as team and not worry so much about ‘I’ it’s more about ‘we’ and the team concept.
“That’s what the girls are really buying into right now. They don’t care if they get all of the accolades, they just want to work hard and work together.”
Actually, that confidence began in the first game of the New Year against Edmonds-Woodway, a team the Knights traditionally struggle against, Norman said. Yes, they lost that game, but it was fairly close, 56-48.
“Even though we lost, we played them pretty tough and I think we started gaining a little bit confidence in ourselves there that we can play with other teams. That doesn’t mean we’re going to win the state championship or anything, but I think we’re on the right track.”
And then a week later, Arlington eked out a 49-48 win over E-W.
“We started thinking, ‘Hey, we played Edmonds-Woodway pretty tough, I guess we could play with Arlington,’” Norman said. “We were pretty confident we could do some good things.”
Turnovers have been the thorn in the Knights’ side and he said the Knights did a decent job of protecting it against Arlington.
That said, the Eagles turned up the heat enough in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 48 after trailing by as many as 12 in the third quarter. But Kamiak got some clutch free throws from Katy Hamill and Tylor Adcock to seal it.
On the flip side, Arlington missed seven free throws in the final period and 14 overall.
“We were pretty fortunate to come away with that win,” Norman said. “We did just enough to win in the end.”
Ten of Kamiak’s 11 players contributed to the scoring, led by Nora Aboulhosn with 11.
Arlington coach Joe Marsh was left shaking his head after the game – in part because of the free throws and also the lack of focus as his players were looking ahead to Friday’s showdown with top-ranked Lynnwood.
“I don’t think there’s any way to get around it,” he said. “We talked about it. But they’re high-school kids. I was kind of hoping that wouldn’t be the case, but I think that was the case a little bit.
“It was a ‘trap game. But give Kamiak credit. They outplayed us for three quarters. It was too little, too late, and we didn’t make our free throws. We’ve not done this all year. We’ve had quarters here and there, where we didn’t play well, but by and large we’ve been playing really good basketball as of late.
“I was just disappointed it happened and on that night.”
Marsh said his team got out-worked against Kamiak and that can’t happen against Lynnwood.
“We have to play our best defense to have a chance in that game,” he said. “Defense and rebounds killed us last night, and we don’t normally have those issues.”
The Eagles reached the 4A state title game last season, then lost to Mead of Spokane. They lost several key seniors but have some top players back, led by Lyndsay Leatherman, who scored a game-high 15 against Kamiak.
I’m hoping we have someone at that Lynnwood-Arlington game Friday – I think I’m going to see West Seattle take on Holy Names.
There are some great girls games on tap over the next few days – including a pair at the King Showcase Monday at Showare. Get out and watch some!