BEAVERTON, Ore. -- Kiara Tate is a 5-foot-7 guard who scored just four points in Southridge High School's 44-30 win over perennial Washington powerhouse, Prairie High School. Southridge sports two Pac 10 signees in guard Alex Earl (Arizona State) and Michelle Jenkins, (USC) who scored 15 and 16 points, respectively. Jenkins also was a dominating force inside, especially on the boards, so why are we touting Tate as the MVP of the game?
First off, because there is no way that Southridge could hold Prairie to 30 points without the defensive effort of Tate. Her toughness, strength and quickness was key to slowing Prairie's standout point guard Ashley Corral, also a Pac 10 commit (USC). Tate shadowed Corral everywhere and Southridge would sprinkle in jump doubles early on when Prairie used ball screens to help relieve the pressure. It all led to Corral being held without a field goal.
Before jumping on Corral understand that she has undergone two major ankle surgeries in the last year and this tournament was her first game action since her last surgery. It was also her third game in three days and but 24 hours after her second game in which she zigged and zagged and was run to the ground battling Long Beach Poly and the six different players they used to deny her for the entire game.
"I am definitely not back in shape yet," Corral said. "And you have the best competition in the country here -- you have to be at your best."
Corral was noticeably gassed and admitted fatigue definitely affected her game against Southridge, and you can credit both her recent return to the court and Poly's strategy against her in the semifinal.
Poly started the game with Brittany Wilson denying her hard everywhere. Corral moved well without the ball so Poly coach Carl Buggs made the switch to freshman guard Ariya Crook-Williams. She did an even better job selling out to deny her regardless of where the ball was or where on the court they were. Just five minutes into the game Poly switched another fresh body on to her, this time sophomore Jazzmine Shirley. This forced a lot of dribble handoffs. Before the game was over, they used smaller, quicker players such as Crook-Williams and April Cook, as well as players bigger than Corral such as 5-11 wing Kellie Thompson. I counted at least six different players and the strategy seemed to be to keep someone fresh on her throughout.
Getting back to Tate, she capitalized on an opportunity to play against one of the nation's top seniors. She hounded Corral all over the court and had the perfect combination of quickness, strength and discipline defensively. She did a great job of jumping the dribble handoffs and kept contact with her throughout the game. Corral's two points were scored at the free throw line and Tate did a great job of making most of her shot attempts tough shots. Tate got her hands on passes, kept the ball out of the paint and played relentless the entire game.
The big two for Southridge, Earl and Jenkins, combined for 31 points, but given the flow of the game, their efforts alone would not have been enough. If Corral had even an average game scoring the ball those 31 points would not have been enough. All too often the role players don't get their just due because women's basketball is lucky to get a box score in the paper, but a substantial amount of credit should be given to Tate in this game. We'll find out in about a month if Tate can duplicate her effort against a Prairie team with their leader back in full swing. The two play another non-league game on January 4, Southridge's first game back from the Tournament of Champions in Phoenix.
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