CHANDLER, Ariz. -- The high level of competition that defines the Nike Tournament of Champions carried over through the Christmas holiday and into the second session of this year's tournament. Both semifinals of the Red Division went down to the wire Monday but just two teams prevailed and advanced to Tuesday's championship game.
Whitney Young (Chicago, Ill.) advanced with a 51-50 victory over Memphis Central (Tenn.) in the afternoon semi while Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland, Calif.) outlasted La Jolla Country Day (La Jolla, Calif.) 58-51 in the night cap.
The game of the day was the Whitney Young-Memphis Central showdown, easily. Whitney Young, ranked No. 12 in the ESPN Rise Fab 50, went down eight in the first quarter then stormed back to take a two-point lead into halftime. It was similar to two great heavyweight boxers going at it. Memphis Central smacked Whitney Young in the mouth with its 17-9 first quarter. The Dolphins responded with an uppercut counterpunch that was a 15-5 second period.
For the second half the two teams went toe-to-toe. The game was decided in the final seconds of the game. Memphis Central led in the fourth quarter from just 23 seconds in until Whitney Young tied the game at 48 with 2:10 to play.
Whitney Young would go up two on a layin by senior guard Ashlee Anderson with 1:30 to play but Memphis Central's Jamila Ajanaku drew a foul in the post and tied the game at the free throw line.
Ajanaku, who has signed with Middle Tennessee State, had a chance to win the game driving left, across the lane from the mid block, but Whitney Young's Chanise Jenkins was able to get on top of the ball and draw a jumpball with just 6.1 seconds left.
Jenkins wasn't done playing hero as she penetrated into the lane with the clock running down and drew a foul at the buzzer. The whistle gave her two shots to win the game and no time left on clock. She missed the first free-throw badly but rebounded and nailed the second attempt, giving her 10 points in the game, and advancing the Dolphins into the final against Bishop O'Dowd.
Bishop O'Dowd advanced behind a 21-8 fourth quarter to overcome a three-point deficit. Junior forward Robie Mayberry scored 13 of her game high 19 points in the second half to spur the team to the championship game. La Jolla Country Day's freshman wing, Maya Hood, led her team with 17 points, nine of which came in the second half.
Though all the team's had to play through adversity the two that advanced arguably had to deal with more. Because of travel issues, due to the severe winter storms blanketing the nation, Villa Park Academy (Erie, Pa.) wasn't able to make it to Arizona in time for the opening round game on Saturday so the schedule was modified. They played Bishop O'Dowd Monday morning at 9:00 a.m., losing 48-26 but O'Dowd was facing two games in one day.
For Whitney Young, the coaches and players didn't find out its semifinal game had been moved up from a 4:30 p.m. tip to 3:00 p.m. until just before tip-off. According to head coach Corryne Irvin the team was eating lunch at Denny's when they received the phone call.
Despite the adversity the Dolphins ultimately responded against a Memphis Central team that is as talented a high school team as you will find.
"I don't know if we made any adjustments," Irvin said of the major turn-around in the second quarter, "We just started off really horrible because we got here late and I don't think the girls had their normal routine. Then we switched to our zone. That helped a lot because they were killing us everywhere in our man."
The Dolphins are a ranked program and they go in to each game with a target on their respective backs. They were facing a Memphis Central team that desperately wanted to show they belonged with the nation's elite.
"Every game we play it makes someone else's season," Irvin said.
"These kids wanted that game," Memphis Central head coach Niki Bray said, "You know how your nerves will get tight, and they're young. You're talking about I have two 14-year old kids on the floor."
Those two freshman starters are Danielle Ballard and Aaliyah Whiteside. Ballard scored 15 points, nine in the first half, for the Warriors.
On Monday Whitney Young looked every bit as good as its No. 12 ranking.
The high scorer of the day at Hamilton High School, home to most of the Red Division, was Mesquite (Gilbert, Ariz.) senior center Christine Sarager with 26 points in a 64-47 victory over Chandler High School (Ariz.). ... Junior guard Sage Romberg scored 20 points for McKinleyville (Calif.) in its 58-41 victory over Schurr (Montebello, Calif.). ... Mountain View (Mesa, Ariz.) beat Cathedral Catholic (San Diego, Calif.) 63-46 behind the 19 points of senior Brittany Conger. Conger has signed a letter of intent to play at San Diego next season.
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Chris Hansen covers girls' high school basketball nationally for ESPN.com and leads the panel that ranks and evaluates players for the network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.