In one of the most hotly contested finals in CIF Southern Section history, the Windward School girls basketball squad was determined not to relinquish the Division 4AA title it won last season and the Wildcats seemed well on their way to defending their championship Wednesday night.
Windward opened a 40-29 lead over Gardena Serra early in the third quarter, poised to pull away from the opposition as it had so many times in the past. This time, however, the Cavaliers answered back and after three intense, grueling overtime periods, Serra prevailed 82-77 at the Anaheim Convention Center.
With time running out in regulation and the score tied 54-54, the Wildcats locked down on defense and forced a shot clock violation, taking over possession with 3.8 seconds left. Guard Jordin Canada's three-point heave from well beyond the arc was short and off they went to a four-minute overtime period.
Kristen Simon scored to tie the game 60-60 with 16 seconds left in the first overtime, then Serra's Rejane Verin missed a layup at the buzzer to send the game into double overtime.
After Serra's Siera Thompson made a three-pointer to put the Cavaliers up 70-68 with 28 seconds left, Simon again answered the call with a three-point play to put the top-seeded Wildcats (27-4) ahead 71-70 with 11.8 seconds remaining. However, Simon was called for her fifth foul after making contact with Verin on a layup with 0.2 seconds left, sending Verin to the line for two shots. She made the first but the second hit the front of the rim, sending the game to a third overtime tied 71-71.
Again, the teams traded baskets throughout the four-minute period. Courtney Jaco's one-handed runner gave Windward a 77-74 lead but Deandrea Toler's steal and layup drew the seventh-seeded Cavaliers (27-3) even with 41 seconds to go, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.
Windward worked for a good shot and Paris Baird had two chances to score in the paint, but couldn't get either shot to fall. Thompson secured the loose ball and pushed it up the floor as the clock ticked under 10 seconds.
Sophomore guard Caila Hailey was fouled by Canada and sank two free throws to give Serra a 79-77 lead with 6.5 seconds remaining. Windward appeared to answer on its next possession when center Imani Stafford made a spin move in the post and made a layup with two seconds left, but the referee quickly waved it off, signaling that Stafford double dribbled on her way to the basket.
Then the Wildcats tried calling for a timeout, but they had none left and Serra was awarded two free throws and the ball on a technical foul. Thompson converted both shots to give Serra an 81-77 lead, then Hailey was fouled intentionally on the inbounds play and tacked on one last free throw with 0.3 seconds remaining.
Thompson had 22 points and Rejane Verin, who has signed with Nevada-Las Vegas, added 20 points and six rebounds for the Cavaliers, who opened the game on a 10-2 run and led 15-14 after the first quarter. Windward outscored Serra 11-10 in the second quarter to make it 25-25 at halftime.
The Wildcats took control in the third quarter, outscoring the underdog Cavaliers 18-11 and carrying a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter. Serra, though, proved to be just as resilient and clawed back into the game and tying it 54-54 on Verin's basket with 56 seconds left in regulation.
Canada finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists, Kristen Simon had 17 points and 10 rebounds, Macchiati Smith had 14 points, Jaco had 12, Stafford had seven points, 18 rebounds and five blocks and Baird had six points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats, who shot 41.1 percent from the field. Baird has signed with San Jose State and fellow senior Stafford has signed with Texas.
The game started almost one hour late because the preceding 3AA Divison final went into double overtime, with Laguna Hills upsetting Alemany, 59-55. The last game of the day, though, was even more compelling with 17 ties and 16 lead changes.
Despite this tough loss, the season is far from over for Coach Steve Smith's team. The Wildcats still have the chance to defend their Division 4 state championship, which they captured last March by beating Northern California winner Albany St. Mary's in Sacramento.
Score by Quarters
OT OT OT Final
6 11 11 82#1 Windward
6 11 6 77