There is nothing in high school basketball quite like the holiday season: several weeks of ranked teams going head-to-head and, best of all, travelling across state lines. The Powerade Fab 50 is shaken up again, this time with post-Christmas action. Instead of brackets in the Arizona desert, the focus shifted to Ohio and Georgia for the Bragging Rights and the Peach State Holiday Invitational.
The marquee matchup in the Peach State event was No. 40 Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) and No. 6 Buford (Buford, Ga.). The game went down to the wire with neither team getting an A-game from its respective stars. But the 42-38 win by Riverdale sent John Wild's team skyrocketing up the rankings after first cracking the list at No. 40 a week ago.
The Lady Warriors have handled highly-regarded teams from Tennessee all season, with a notable 58-41 victory over Lawrence County (Lawrenceburg, Tenn.) to open the season. Riverdale later dispatched Mt. Juliet (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) whose only other loss came on New Year's Eve to No. 35 Hoover (Hoover, Ala.).
Riverdale's trip to the Peach State event meant facing three opponents from Georgia. After a runaway 92-49 win in the opening round over Campbell (Smyrna, Ga.), the Lady Warriors played back-to-back games with single-digit margins for the first time this season.
The matchups with Greater Atlanta Christian (Atlanta, Ga.) and Buford showed off Riverdale's brilliant recipe for success, toughness and chemistry. The team gave up considerable size to GAC both on the perimeter as well as trying to matchup with 6-foot-3 sophomore post Kristina Nelson. Regardless, Riverdale was able to control the rebounding and pick up a 59-50 win. In Buford, the opportunity to play a high-profile team with several high-profile prospects presented itself and gave great context to the Lady Warriors' talent.
With junior Shacobia Barbee providing the grit in the paint, despite being 5-10 in the land of the giants, the team feeds off of being overlooked. Sophomore point guard Tyisha Petty, at just 5-6, came up huge in the championship game and, like Barbee, embodies the undersized-overlooked-overachieving style that is Riverdale basketball.
Riverdale can get rebounding, hustle plays and 3-point shooting out of sophomore-forward Olivia Jones. And, as expected, she stands just 5-9 yet is more effective than most players several inches taller. The x-factor for Wild's program is combo-guard Alexa Middleton. She has a knack for making big plays and when she is dialed in the team is scary-good.
The defending Tennessee AAA champions have one more important test before state playoffs begin Jan. 22 when Riverdale plays host to Memphis Central (Memphis, Tenn.). Though Niki Bray's Memphis Central squad has had a rough start to its season, it traveled all the way to Hawaii and played in the top bracket of the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix. The team may not have the record to back up its early season ranking, but overlooking this talent-laden team would be a colossal mistake. And one Wild has no intention of letting his team commit.
-- Chris Hansen
Gabby Ramos of Kennedy (San Antonio, Texas) is a junior standout who shot 66 percent en route to scoring 24 points in a 54-40 victory against Providence to extend the Rockets' winning streak to five games. Ramos added nine rebounds, eight blocks and three steals in the victory. ... Breanna Gaspervich of East Troy (Milwaukee, Wis.) exploded for a season-high 33 points in the Trojans' 57-51 victory over Lake Geneva Badger (Wis.) Tuesday and then added a 20-point effort in a 55-33 victory over Orfordville Parkview (Parkview, Wis.) on Wednesday. ... In a tough 68-73 loss to rival Century High School (Hillsboro, Ore.), Franklin's (Portland, Ore.) bright spot, Jude Schimmel, proved she is a lethal shooter as she torched Century for a 51 points. ... Jessy Ward led Clarksville (Clarksville, Tenn.) with 28 points, including five 3-pointers during a 52-45 win over Brentwood in the Beech Holiday Tournament. ... LaDonate Henton of Lansing Eastern (East Lansing, Mich.), who is the proud Dayton signee, scored 39 points with 19 rebounds and six blocked shots in an 85-79 victory over Saginaw Arthur Hill (Mich.) to give her team a wonderful holiday gift. ... Aaliyah Lewis, a sophomore guard for Bishop Ford (N.Y.) scored a game-high 25 points, including 10 in the final two minutes, collected 10 steals and dished out six assists in the Falcons' last-minute win over East Longmeadow (East, Longmeadow, Mass.). … Memphis Central (Memphis, Tenn.) is playing without guard Danielle Ballard who has been suspended. "It's an indefinite suspension, she could be back this week, we'll just see how she responds and steps up as a leader." Niki Bray said of Ballard's status.
-- Kara Howe
Brimming with tournaments pitting national and regional powers, the holidays are a time of great correction. Whereas the Powerade Fab 50 rankings have been, for the opening few weeks, based on projection and speculation, there now is real data on which to base them.
To wit, Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.) levitated to No. 1 after claiming the Smith title at the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions. Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.) went to No. 2 on the strength of its second-place finish at the TOC, but buffeted that status with consecutive victories over nationally relevant Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland, Calif.), Carondelet (Concord, Calif.) and Georgetown (Georgetown, Texas).
At No. 5, Bolingbrook (Bolingbrook, Ill.) logged its two losses at the TOC, but followed up last week with two strong victories, including over then-No. 19 Nazareth Regional (Brooklyn, N.Y.) at the Braggin' Rights Classic in Cincinnati.
As for other movers and shakers, Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) stormed up from No. 40 to No. 7 on the strength of a dominating performance, including a victory over then-No. 6 Buford (Buford, Ga.) at the Peach State Invitational in Duluth, Ga.
The best of a good foursome of Alabama teams, Madison Academy (Madison, Ala.) elevated to No. 20 after beating Sparkman (Harvest, Ala.), which went to three overtimes to beat them earlier this season. Sparkman checks in at No. 32, while Hoover (Hoover, Ala.) is No. 30. Bob Jones (Madison, Ala.) is just outside the Fab 50.
Records are through Jan, 4, 2011 games, where reported.
Additions: 35. Inkster (Inkster, Mich.), 40. Hollywood Christian (Hollywood, Fla.) 16-1, 41. Twinsburg (Twinsburg, Ohio) 9-0, 47. Cajon (San Bernardino, Calif.) 16-0, 48. Shabazz (Newark, N.J.), 49. Our Lady of Good Counsel (Olney, Md.) 12-0, 50. Montini Catholic (Lombard, Ill.) 17-0
Subtractions: Lake Mary (Lake Mary, Fla.) 15-2 (32) , Fayette County (Fayetteville, Ga.) 8-3 (33), Detroit Renaissance (Detroit, Mich.) 3-1 (34), Edison (Huntington Beach, Calif.) 12-1 (47), Bob Jones (Madison, Ala.) 13-4 (48), Marion County (Lebanon, Ky.) 8-3 (49), Etiwanda (Etiwanda, Calif.) 7-1 (50)
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ESPN HOOPGURLZ HS RANKINGS PANEL
Lisa Bodine is a national evaluator for ESPN HoopGurlz. A native of Queens, N.Y., she began her coaching career in 1993 with the NY Gazelles, has coached with D.C.-based Team Unique, and in 2009 she was named DAC Co-Coach of the Year after leading Wakefield Country Day School in Flint Hill, Va., to its first-ever conference title. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Rebecca Gray is an intern for ESPN HoopGurlz. She previously wrote a column for the website about her experiences as a freshman on basketball scholarship at the University of North Carolina. She transferred to and played at Kentucky and now plays basketball and golf at Union College. A 5-foot-10, sharp-shooting guard out of Georgetown, Ky., Gray was named Miss Basketball in the state of Kentucky after averaging 25.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.1 steals and 4.8 assists during her senior season at Scott County High School. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.
Kara (Harrison) Howe is the director of operations for ESPN HoopGurlz and oversees high-school rankings. She founded and coached in the Utah Sky club program, which sent several players, including sister Michelle, a recent Stanford, graduate to Division I schools. She played college basketball at Utah Valley State, was an all-state performer at Alta High School in Sandy, Utah, and coached high school in the Salt Lake area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.