Acclaim for the top games and names from the 2018-19 girls' high school basketball season
We've crowned New Hope Academy as our espnW HoopGurlz national champion, but we're not done with the 2018-19 high school girls' basketball season quite yet. Here are some of the individual performances that have to be revisited (at least) one more time.
Shot of the year
Maria Alvarez of Miami Country Day wins this one in a landslide. In December at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona, Miami Country Day trailed New Hope Academy by three points with 12.3 seconds to play in overtime. New Hope inbounded the ball and tried to run down the clock, but Alvarez tipped the ball near half court, caught up to it well beyond the Miami Country Day 3-point arc, gathered it, shot it and was sent sprawling to the court. The 3-pointer went through the net to tie the game, and Alvarez made the free throw to win it. The four points were by far the most memorable of the 22 Alvarez scored that day. You can bet New Hope Academy coaches remembered, too. In a rematch nearly four months later at the GEICO Nationals, Sam Caldwell paid extra attention to a defensive strategy to slow down the electric 5-foot-7 point guard who is headed to South Florida. New Hope prevailed in the rematch and went on to win the national championship, but Alvarez won a memory of a lifetime.
Performance of the year
Allow us to apologize in advance. We're going to tap into a little math to illustrate the enormity of Kayla McPherson's game on Jan. 5 at Georgia's Madison County High. Regulation high school basketball games last 32 minutes. McPherson scored 64 points. That equals a bucket a minute. The sophomore guard scored 12 points in the first quarter, 16 in the second and third quarters and then 20 in the fourth. For the game, she shot 11-for-16 on 3-point attempts. In her spare time, McPherson grabbed 11 rebounds in the 93-68 victory against Hart County. For the season, McPherson averaged 26.5 points and 3.0 rebounds for Madison County (25-3) and was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Georgia, joining past stars Asia Durr, Diamond DeShields and Maya Moore. That's what we call good company.
Stock-riser of the year
Vic Schaefer knows how to spot them. Aliyah Matharu, an explosive combo guard who is heading to Mississippi State, had an epic senior season at Bishop McNamara (Forestville, Maryland). After flying under the radar over the summer, Matharu averaged 17.7 points and 3.5 steals per game and helped keep Bishop McNamara in the chase for a national title until the very end. Matharu plays with fearlessness and an aggressive defensive nature -- think Morgan William with more offensive firepower. "She is dynamic on offense and disruptive on defense," Bishop McNamara coach Frank Oliver said earlier this year. Mississippi State fans are going to enjoy the ride with Matharu behind the wheel.
Freshman of the year
In her first game at Mount Notre Dame (Cincinnati), KK Bransford scored 29 points. Impressive, right? Wait until we tell you that her 29-point performance came against Africentric (Columbus, Ohio), a team that went 28-0 and finished No. 2 in the espnW 25 Power Rankings. Bransford, a physical 5-foot-9 guard, was a big part of Mount Notre Dame's run to a state title. She utilized her versatility to average 17 points per game on a team that also featured Gabbie Marshall (Iowa) and Julia Hoefling (Loyola-Chicago).
Player of the year
Azzi Fudd. The 5-11 sophomore guard at St. John's College (Washington, D.C.), was the Gatorade National Player of the Year and she continued to show why she is one of the most prized recruits in years. Need proof? She averaged 26.4 points per game, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals and shot 52 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3-point range. And that was against the rugged competition in the DMV, including three wins over national contender Bishop McNamara, and the top-notch field at the Nike Tournament of Champions and GEICO Nationals. Fudd is the focal point of countless power-5 programs, and her consistency set her apart from the rest of the pack. Unfortunately, days after her sophomore season ended, Fudd injured the MCL and ACL in her right knee at a USA Basketball 3-on-3 event and will need ACL surgery in the coming weeks.
Coaches of the year
How do you choose between Karen Weitz at Las Vegas' Centennial and Ochiel Swaby at Florida's Miami Country Day? You don't. The no-nonsense Weitz guided her team to a 31-2 record, a fifth straight Nevada state title and a No. 5 ranking in the final espnW 25 Power Rankings. Perhaps more important than the results, Weitz demands excellence, accountability and stresses fundamentals. Swaby and Miami Country Day shied away from nobody. They finished at 26-2, No. 4 in the final rankings and with a sixth straight state championship. Swaby also was named the Naismith high school coach of the year. Swaby's attention to detail and his calm demeanor resonates with his players. Year in and year out, that translates into victories. And trophies.