Check out the top plays from the best teams at Nike Nationals including Cy-Fair, Cal Stars, All-Ohio, Cal Swish, Fairfax Stars and Tennessee Flight -- two words -- Ballin out!
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Cy-Fair Team Ogwumike finally broke through at what many consider to be the toughest club basketball tournament on the summer schedule, beating the Cal Stars 69-59 to win the Nike Nationals.
This was the first win of the Nationals by the Texas-based club, which had made the final four of the event twice and won the inaugural Junior Nationals title in 2010.
The Philadelphia Belles 15U won the 2010 event, and in doing so completed a rare triple crown by winning Nike Nationals, the U.S. Junior Nationals in Washington, D.C., and the Boo Williams Invitational 15U in Virginia.
As usual, the Nike Nationals was stocked with high quality club teams, but the event is not meant to be an open championship as only 20 Nike-sponsored teams are invited. And even then, inviting only 20 means that some Nike teams aren't in the mix either.
Nike National semifinal
Cy-Fair Team Ogwumike 61, All Ohio Black 58
This was billed as a matchup of a deeper Cy-Fair perimeter against a stronger All Ohio interior. The first half could be divided in half with Cy-Fair building a ten-point lead based on better care of the ball and perimeter shooting. Later in the half, All Ohio's Kelsey Mitchell started to score and Cy-Fair started to make more errors. The score knotted at 28 with 2:39 left in the half but Cy-Fair closed out the half on a 6-1 run ,putting the score at 34-29. Mitchell led all scorers with 11 points while Cy-Fair's Ariel Atkins led her side with 10.
The lead was exchanged several times in the second half with All-Ohio's Kathryn Westbeld scoring inside early with a versatile offense that featured drives, face-ups and post moves. She finished with 21 points, and Brooke McCarty added 18 while Atkins finished with 12.
One of the great plays of the half (and the event) was a mid-air catch and score by Cy-Fair center Nancy Mulkey (6-9, 2015) with 10:04 left in the game giving her team a 43-41 lead. Unfortunately, she turned an ankle on landing and was done for the tournament.
The key plays down the stretch occurred just under the three-minute mark with the Ohio side nursing a 54-51 lead. On successive plays, Mitchell, who led all scorers with 23, tried to attack Atkins who was defending her, but Mitchell missed one shot and was called for a charge on the other. The momentum swung and the Texans were soon nursing a 57-56 lead in the final minute and hung on to win. Besides stellar defense in the last three minutes (a 10-4 edge in scoring), credit Cy-Fair's bench with a 14-6 advantage in points for the contest.
Cal Stars Nike Elite 62, Tennessee Flight Silver 60
The Cal Stars played solid team basketball all weekend, sharing the scoring load between multiple players. Their matchup against the Flight was no different as Sabrina Ionescu led the team with 12 points, followed by Darrien Washington with 10, and Breanna Alford and Makenzie Cast both with eight.
The Stars maintained the lead for nearly the entire game, and were up 35-31 at the half before pushing ahead by as much as 12 points. Tennessee-bound Alexa Middleton, who had several high-scoring performances in the tournament, was held to just six points, but the Flight rallied near the end of the game when back-to-back charge calls turned momentum in their favor. Crystal Dangerfield, who scored a game-high 14 points, hit a three and fed the ball to her teammates to close the gap to two. The Flight had a shot at the buzzer to try and win the game, but it didn't fall and the Stars held on to advance to the championship game.
In the final analysis, Flight Silver had the team perhaps with the most depth in the tournament, but did not have that one special player that it could go to when they had to score. In the end, that may have caused them to come up a bit short of a repeat championship in this event.
Cy Fair Players #11 LaShann Higgs, #1 Brooke McCarty, #24 Chelsea Dungee and #4 Kennedy Leonard celebrate after winning Nike Nationals. (Photo by Kelly Kline)
Nike Nationals final
Cy-Fair Team Ogwumike 69, Cal Stars Nike Elite 59
The guard match up heavily favored Cy-Fair (which yes, is sponsored by former Cy-Fair star and L.A. Spark Nneka Ogwumike) with Cal Stars point guard Natalie Romeo (5-6, 2014) out before the tournament with a knee injury. Countering this was the strongest perimeter group in the event, and in the end it proved too much for the Californians.
The game featured Cy-Fair opening leads only to see the Stars close back down with beautiful play execution. The Texans had carefully built an early five-point lead, but had trouble defending inside with their limited size, so their lead was only 37-36 at half. Atkins had 13 points while the Stars were led by power forward Breanna Alford ( 5-11, 2014) with nine (but none in the second half).
The second stanza again saw the Texans take control, only to see the lead start to dwindle in the last six minutes -- first to seven and then five points (62-57) at the 4:58 mark. The Stars were used to coming from behind, as they had taken the measure of in-state rival Cal Sparks the prior evening, with a rally from a double-digit deficit. On this night, however, Ariel Atkins would have none of that as she stole an in-bounds pass, converted at the other end and drew the foul to give Cy-Fair a 65-57 edge at the 4:28 mark. After that play, the body language of the Stars became very negative as they appeared resigned to defeat and never challenged again.
Atkins finished with 31 points, many coming off defense (both individual and team). She appeared to be almost everywhere, causing steals and taking charges at one end while scoring in numerous ways at the other. McCarty finished with 14 points but just as important was her unrelenting defense on Stars' point guard Sabrina Ionescu, who labored to score five points and yet keep the Stars offense in some kind of rhythm. Scoring honors for the Stars were shared by Mariya Moore and small forward Kelli Hayes (6-1, 2014) each with 14 points.
Hayes, though, capped her weekend by announcing she will attend UCLA, which is another good get for Cori Close and the Bruins.
Nike Junior Nationals semifinals
Philadelphia Belles 15U 61, BWSL 15U Elite 54
This was a battle between the Belles' perimeter, led by the scoring duo of Nicole Munger (5-8 guard, 2015) and Taylor Murray (5-7 point guard, 2015), versus a strong interior presence of the Boo Williams forces. For most of the night, the Belles were launching a lot of perimeter shots with varying degrees of success while they were not getting much post action. Meanwhile, the baby Boos were hitting the glass trying to make stick-backs. Philly maintained a modest single-digit lead most of the game, leading at half 29-25 thanks to Munger's 11 points and high-motor play. BWSL was led by Sydnei Archie (5-11 forward, 2016) with seven points and a lot of muscle on the glass.
In the second half, the game stayed close with the Belles on top. With just over two minutes to go, they expanded the lead to 56-48, but the Sparks narrowed the lead to three in the closing minute. Murray repeatedly drove the key to help hold off the Virginians, who were forced to foul in the closing seconds. Murray, a member of the USA U16 team, finished with 22 and Munger 18 for the Belles. Archie and Gianna Smith (5-9 shooting guard, 2015) led BWSL with 15 each.
Cal Sparks 2015 U Blue 42, MN North Tartan 15U 31
This contest was pretty much controlled by the Cal Sparks interior from start to finish, as they were more athletic and more physical. North Tartan is more of a finesse team that likes to play off the creativity of its star small forward Monica Burich (6-1 small forward, 2015) who was shut down (seven points and a few assists) for most of the night by the Sparks' quick, physical defenders. Offensively, the low-scoring game was controlled by the Sparks' inside duo of Ayanna Clark (6-1 power forward, 2017) with 12 points on the night and Celeste West (6-3 center, 2016) with 10. Forward Courtney Fredrickson (6-2, 2016) led North Tartan with just eight points.
The Philadelphia Belles 15U hold the championship banner after defeating the Cal Sparks to win the Junior Nationals Championship. (Photo by Bob Corwin)
Nike Junior Nationals final
Philadelphia Belles 15U 64, Cal Sparks 2015 U Blue 56
The Belles appeared to have the Californian well scouted as the game was never close after a few minutes. The Sparks opened up wioth a 5-0 run, only to have the Belles counter with a 20-4 outburst that basically decided the game. The Sparks were forced to shoot over a packed-in zone for much of the game, which shut down their posts being shut down and forced their perimeter shooters to do the bulk of the scoring. It was 39-22 at half and the final score was only close due to sloppy play by Belles' reserves, which forced the starters back into the game in the last minute. Taylor Murray (our unofficial Full Court MVP) led Philly with 18 points. followed by forward Caroline Davis (6-0, 2015) with 15. Guard Leah Purvis (5-6, 2015) led the Sparks with 19 points in a game not nearly as close as the final scored indicated.
Full Court (unofficial) Nike Nationals All-Tournament Team (Final Four teams only):
Ariel Atkins, 5-11 guard/forward, 2014, Cy-Fair Team Ogwumike - MVP
Sabrina Ionescu, 5-10 guard, 2016, Cal Stars Nike Elite
Brooke McCarty, 5-3 point guard, 2014, Cy-Fair Team Ogwumike
Kelsey Mitchell, 5-7 point guard, 2014, All Ohio Black
Mariya Moore, 6-0 forward, 2014, Cal Stars Nike Elite
Kathryn Westbeld, 6-1 forward, 2014, All Ohio Black
*Atkins was just about everywhere on the court for Cy-Fair, highlighted with key stops against Kelsey Mitchell in the semifinal. Let the debate begin as to whether Atkins is the top prep player (not talking prospect) in the 2014 class.
*Ionescu admirably filled in for her Stars at point guard while having numerous double-digit scoring games. She rated number one for 2016s at the event.
*McCarty again showed why she is considered the best player under 5-5 in the 2014 class. She plays smart and hard, shows great leadership and can shoot the ball at distance. The University of Texas is expected to land her and Atkins come November signing.
*Mitchell showed outstanding play throughout the event, scoring herself and assisting teammates. Her ability to attack left (her strong hand) or right about as well is a tribute to herself and those who have coached her.
*Moore was a jack of all trades in North Augusta: She helped bring the ball up the court, rebounded, passed and scored herself mostly by attacking the basket or scoring in the paint.
*Westbeld was a warrior in the key hitting the boards hard, scoring via drives, face-up and post up action.
Full Court's best three of the event:
Ariel Atkins, 5-11 wing, 2014, Cy-Fair Team Ogwumike
Kelsey Mitchell, 5-7 point guard, 2014, All Ohio Black
Katie Lou Samuelson, 6-3 forward, 2015, Cal Swish Black
*Samuelson put her team on her back, carrying Swish Black to a second-place finish in pool play for a team lacking strong interior play. She can shoot over opponents or go around them in and out of the key.