Peerless Predictions: CIF Girls BB Finals

Guard Elisha Davis and her team made it to the D1 state final for a second straight season. Paul Muyskens/ESPNHS

This year’s CIF state championships on the girls side feature four strong favorites and one game that is almost too close to call.

Note: All of the following writeups and selections are done with the highest level of respect to both teams and all coaches. We never use point spreads and, sure, some of the scores might be a bit more lopsided than we might think. But you also never know what might happen. After all, these are teenagers.

We had one of our worst years ever in last year’s CIF finals (boys and girls combined) with just six correct and four wrong. We were 7-for-10 in 2010 and were 9-for-10 in 2009.

The following writeups were completed by Harold Abend, Paul Muyskens.

Girls Division I

(Saturday, March 24, 9:30 a.m.)

Cal-Hi Sports’ predicted score:

Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 61, Berkeley 48

There’s little surprise that these two teams are meeting again for the state’s big school title. What’s different is the makeup of the two teams from last year.

Two-time defending state champion Mater Dei sent Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis off to Connecticut leaving USC-bound and ESPNHS Girls Basketball Class of 2012 No. 2 Jordan Adams and Washington State-bound Alexas Williamson to carry on.

Then, Canadian-born and that country’s national team star, Class of 2012 No. 11 and UCLA-bound Nirra Fields showed up when her legal guardian, Los Angeles Lakers’ coach Mike Brown, put her and his own boys into Mater Dei.

When Adams went down to an injured ankle and still remains a little less then full strength, it was Fields that took over starting at the Nike TOC and continues to be the team’s leader. Fields is also a leading candidate for Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year, an award Mosqueda-Lewis won last year.

Berkeley went from having current Cal point guard Brittany Boyd and a big front line to Arizona State-bound long-range bomber and tenacious defender Elisha Davis and a cast of hard-workers, led by senior guard Jasmin Guinn and 5-foot-10 junior power forward Rachel Howard, the Yellowjackets’ biggest front-line player.

The biggest problem we see is Berkeley has not been scoring that many points, even against playoff opponents that have been seriously overmatched. The team only averaged 52 points for the three NorCal games and all were non-ranked opponents.

Prior to the 11-point win over current No. 3 Long Beach Poly, Mater Dei on the other hand scored 80 points against previously ranked Huntington Beach in an 80-52 victory. The Monarchs then beat current No. 11 Fontana Summit 69-59 in the semis.

Can Berkeley pull off the big upset? Probably not, but will it give the Monarchs as good a game as Long Beach Poly did? There’s a good chance that will be the case.

Girls Division II

(Friday, March 23, 6:00 p.m.)

Cal-Hi Sports’ predicted score:

Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 56, J.W. North (Riverside) 49

From the time the season started right up until the Northern Regional title game tip-off, pretty much everyone had conceded another Northern Regional title and state championship to St. Mary’s of Stockton.

And then veteran coach Sue Phillips employed a recipe that had worked in the semifinal victory over second-seeded Carondelet against the Northern Regional top-seeded Rams. The result was her girls pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent NorCal history with their 53-51 dispatching of St. Mary’s.

Although it was the brilliance of sophomore Kelli Hayes (23 points, seven rebounds, 10-of-12 free-throw shooting) that helped break the press, the passing of 6-foot-2 senior Amanda Lovely was a key to Phillips’ strategy of using their superior height to break the press as well.

Plus, the Pepperdine-bound Lovely (12 points, 12 rebounds) was like a woman amongst girls down the stretch, forcing two turnovers in the final 25.9 seconds and blocking a shot with eight seconds left.

In the Southland, most everyone thought top-seeded Lynwood would have a rematch with the J.W. North team the Knights beat in the CIF Southern Section D2AA championship.

Instead, the Huskies faced Santa Ana Foothill and with the 57-49 victory a team that was 4-21 last year will be playing for a state championship.

Junior 5-foot-10 forward Priscilla Brooks led the way against Foothill with a double-double 17 points and 10 rebounds. UC Riverside-bound Brittany Crain had a double-double 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Another player that should play a key role against Mitty is UC Riverside-bound point guard Akilah Martin. With Mitty point guard Vanessa Garner out with a knee injury, this could be an important factor.

Even so, Mitty seems to have the edge with its size and speed, the momentum after the St. Mary’s upset, and the wily Phillips at the helm.

The 1999 State Coach of the Year will be going for career win No. 557 and although it won’t be a cakewalk, it’s looking good on paper for Phillips to get her record to 5-4 in state title game appearances.

Girls Division III

(Saturday, March 24, 1 p.m.)

Cal-Hi Sports’ Predicted Score:

Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 69, Laguna Hills 57

Like Division II, this is another case where the anticipated matchup did not go as the rankings and seedings expected.

There’s no surprise that O’Dowd is back in the state title game and is now the top ranked team in Northern California regardless of division.

The Dragons have the goods as was witnessed by the fact they only have three losses, two to ranked California teams, and one to Villa Maria Academy (Pa.) to open the Nike TOC. In that game, they came out flat after a nine-day layoff that was preceded by an 11-point win over D2 finalist Mitty.

O’Dowd played like it wasn’t expected to win on the road at Stockton St. Mary’s, but few teams have won there recently. The best game the Dragons may have played was in a West Coast Jamboree Platinum Division title-game 65-58 loss to a Windward team that was firing on all cylinders at the time.

There’s no question the junior front line of previous State Freshman of the Year 6-foot-2 K.C. Waters and 6-foot-4 Oderah Chidom is the best in the state right now. Another 6-foot-4 junior that has improved considerably during the season is Breanna Brown. She had 10 points and nine rebounds in just over 15 minutes of action in the 70-51 NorCal D2 championship win over Orinda Miramonte.

Another factor in O’Dowd’s success is point guard Ariel Bostick doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting in the backcourt. The freshmen duo of Aisha Thomas and Aisia Robertson has become more and more productive. Thomas had 13 points against Miramonte.

What about Laguna Hills? The Hawks have eight losses, and more than one is a stinker loss, but when you live and die by the 3-point shot it can be a season of ups and downs.

Plus, the team struggled at times when leading scorer and UC Davis-bound Celia Marfone (17.9 ppg) missed several games with an injury.

Laguna Hills does have an 11-game winning streak that includes two wins over Alemany of Mission Hills (a team that won 31 games) and a 75-69 win over top-seeded San Diego Mission Bay in the SoCal D3 championship.

Marfone wasn’t the only one to light it up from outside the arc against Mission Bay. Anna Mumm, a 6-foot-2 junior center, had a career-high 20 points, including a couple of shots from long range.

Laguna Hills would seem to be a similar opponent for O’Dowd as Miramonte, another team that depended on the 3-ball with some size inside.

Unless all the Dragons’ bigs get in foul trouble, this should be the “unfinished business” that coach Malik McCord talked about after the Miramonte win.

Girls Division IV

(Friday, March 23, 3:30 p.m.)

Cal-Hi Sports’ Prediction:

La Jolla Country Day (La Jolla) 69, Salesian (Richmond) 55

The 3:30 p.m. game on Friday afternoon may very well turn out to be one of the most entertaining of the 10 games contested over the two-day period.

It’s really no surprise that Cal-Hi Sports’ No. 2 ranked La Jolla Country Day is representing the south, even though many felt it would come down to the Torreys playing defending state champion Windward for the right to play in Sacramento.

The only blemish on the record of a team some feel should be tops in the state (even ahead of Mater Dei) is a two-point loss to Long Beach Poly in the finals of the Oaks Christian tournament, a Poly team the Torreys beat by 12 points at the Nike TOC. They came back four days after losing to pin a 71-52 loss on Stockton St. Mary’s.

Veteran coach Terri Bamford will be making her’s and the school’s sixth appearance in the state championships, and on paper comes in as a prohibitive favorite.

Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year candidate Kelsey Plum leads a team that is averaging 70 points a game. The ambidextrous junior is averaging 22.2 ppg and will give Salesian fits trying to defend her. She also has per game averages of 4.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.7 steals. Plum likes to shoot the 3-ball, so one factor will be if she does better or worse than the 34 percent (62-of-210) she’s connecting on from outside the arc in the cavernous Power Balance Pavilion.

If Plum isn’t enough to worry about, Salesian coach Steve Pezzola will have to find a way of keeping the University of San Diego-bound 5-foot-10 Hood twins, Maya and Malina, from planting in the paint. So far, no one has figured a way to do that. The twins combine for nearly 30 points per game.

Bamford also has Tia Kanoa to handle the rock. The sophomore guard missed all last year with a knee injury but was impressive over the summer and has played well this season.

For Salesian to have any chance, sophomore sensation Mariya Moore will need to have a lights out game.

The fact the 5-foot-11 Moore has carried the Pride all the way to the big dance is really no big surprise. She was the top rated California girl observed over the summer by the Cal-Hi Sports Girls of Summer caravan. On the season she’s averaging 16.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 4.0 steals a game.

Moore is like the girls version of Mitty’s Aaron Gordon, a point power forward that will bull her way to the basket.

Another player for Salesian who has improved vastly as the season has progressed is freshman MaAne’ Mosley. If she is at or above her 12.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, and Moore does her yeoman’s work, this game could be interesting.

Girls Division V

(Saturday, March 24, 9:30 a.m.)

Cal-Hi Sports’ predicted score:

Mission Prep (San Luis Obispo) 63, Brookside Christian (Stockton) 58

Led by coach Que Ngo, Brookside is making its first state title appearance in school history after a win in its very first NorCal Division V championship game.

On the court, the Knights are led by one of top scorers in the state in sophomore Tiara Tucker, who was averaging nearly 26 points per game entering the playoffs but was held to just 15 points in the NorCal finals. Sophomore Brianna Smith stepped up and scored 18 points while freshmen Ra'kyra Gabriel and Ariana Vaughn both averaged in double figures during the regular season.

Brookside has shown this season it can go toe-to-toe with some of the much bigger schools as the Knights lost by just one point to Sheldon of Sacramento and lost by 11 to Sacramento while getting wins against Monterey Trail of Elk Grove and El Camino of Sacramento.

Since a 40-29 loss to Independence of Bakersfield, the Royals have yet to lose another game as they enter the state finals with a 29-game winning streak with the last 13 all coming by double digits. Leading the Royals offense are senior captains Kaylee Williams, Jenna Dunbar and Bri Harvey as they all average in double figures with Dunbar and Harvey each averaging 14.4 points per game.

Dunbar led the way with 21 points and seven assists in Mission Prep’s 62-41 win over Rolling Hills Prep of San Pedro in the SoCal finals. During the winning streak, they have also defeated Morro Bay, Templeton, St. Bonaventure and Ridgeview of Bakersfield. Ridgeview was led by Erica McCall, one of the top juniors as a college prospect in the nation.

The Knights, with just one senior and one junior on their roster, looked like a nervous team in the NorCal finals and may have the most talented player on the court in Tucker. Mission Prep, however, is a senior-dominant squad and that could be the difference. If the Royals win, they’ll break an 0-6 slide in state finals and would win the school’s first CIF title.

Comments or corrections? Email Mark.Tennis@espn.com.