Mater Dei falls to Windward in clash of top teams
SANTA ANA - There was a massive amount of hype heading into the first night of the Nike Extravaganza where the top two girls basketball teams in the state hooked up Friday night at Mater Dei High.
Mater Dei (21-3), the two-time defending state and national champions, entered the matchip against Windward of L.A. ranked No. 2 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 12 in the nation by ESPN. Windward (21-3) is ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 6 in the nation.
The Monarchs battled back from an 11-point deficit in the first half, but the Wildcats hit their shots down the stretch to pull out a 65-62 victory in a game that lived up to all the hype.
Windward coach Steve Smith said his team accomplished one of its major goals by slaying the "three-headed monster" that is Mater Dei, Long Beach Poly and Brea Olinda this season. Those three teams have been running girls basketball in California in recent years.
"The more that we can get in this kind of environment the better it is regardless if we win or lose," Smith said. "They'll learn from this. For us, everything is to prepare us for the playoffs and hopefully for another state championship run.
"One of the things we wanted to do was we wanted to have the toughest schedule out of everybody, one of the toughest schedules in the history of girls basketball. That's what we wanted to do. I can't really say it's a changing of the guard. That goes from year to year, but for this year it's our guard."
Mater Dei coach Kevin Kiernan said his girls will learn from this defeat and come back stronger.
"That's why those kids got to Windward and that's why these kids go to Mater Dei," Kiernan said. "They want to play in these kinds of games.
"When you play in these kinds of games, you take a risk. You're taking a risk that you're going to lose. You're taking a risk that you're going to have some heartache. I'd rather take the risk. I'd rather take the swing. We lost, we lost, but we took a great swing tonight."
Kiernan continued: "It was a great night. It would be great to win, but we're going to play another big game down the road. We'll be a little more prepared for it. But you gotta do that. You gotta take the risk. If you don't take the risk, what's the point? I mean, why play teams you can beat by 50? What does that prove?
"We need to get out there and play these guys and they need to play us. We should do it all the time."
The Monarchs came out ice cold and it looked like Windward might be off and running to a blowout when it led by 11 points after back-to-back baskets by Kristen Simon. Courtney Jaco also hit two big 3-pointers early in the first half and had nine points in the half.
But UCLA-bound Nirra Fields, USC-bound Jordan Adams and Khalia Lark got hot for the Monarchs. Lark hit two 3-pointers in the final 2:03 of the half and Adams made a layup in the closing seconds to make it 31-31 at halftime.
Texas-bound Imani Stafford, a 6-foot-7 center for the Wildcats, only had two points at halftime, but she did have 10 rebounds.
The third quarter was a back-and-forth affair. Williamson converted a 3-point play with 47.9 seconds left to make it 45-45, but Stafford answered with a basket to give the Wildcats a 47-45 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Jaco converted a 3-point play and Macchiati Smith hit a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter and push Windward's lead to 53-45.
The Monarchs trailed by 10 points with 2:18 remaining when Mater Dei had one last surge. Williamson hit a 3-pointer, Kaija Powell scored on a fastbreak and Field hit a pair of free throws to cut it to 61-58 with 1:13 remaining.
Jordin Canada responded with a layup to make it 63-58 with 42.5 seconds left and withstood Mater Dei's final assault. The Wildcats couldn't breath a sigh of relief until Khalia Lark's 3-pointer with 1 seconds left came up short.
Smith finished with 16 points to lead the Wildcats. Jaco had 12 points and Simon and Canada each scored 10 points and Stafford had nine points and 15 rebounds for Windward.
Fields scored a game-high 26 points and Williamson finished with 17 points to lead the Monarchs.