<
>

Statement Game

St. Mary's celebrates its Division III state championship. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Not even 24 hours after Mater Dei polished off its 2010 season with the California Interscholastic Federation Division II championship, St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.) had its chance to make its closing argument in the Division III final against Bishop Amat.

After St. Mary's handled Bishop Amat, winning 89-41 at Rabobank Arena, the Rams head coach Tom Gonsalves added several exclamation marks to the team's statement game.

"I'm glad I came to the Mater Dei game last night because I thought it was pretty clear who the better team was," St. Mary's head coach Tom Gonsalves said.

Both St. Mary's and Mater Dei won the California state championship in their respective divisions. Both teams ended the season with just a single loss. So how does St. Mary's make the case to end the season at No. 1 when they lost to Mater Dei?

"I know everyone makes excuses but we didn't have (Annissa) Garcia," Gonsalves said of the loss to Mater Dei, "and I think she makes six points difference for us."

Gonsalves cited several other factors on how to view the Mater Dei matchup.

"It was an interesting game because we went down 26-10 in the first quarter and from then on out not only did we catch them we took the lead," he said. "We just missed some shots at the end. Chelsea was 3 for 17 just coming off an injury… she was not in good shape.

"They jumped out on us. A girl I didn't even know about hit about four threes in a row and I'm like, 'Who is this girl?' " Gonsalves said of the quick start fueled by Jessica Duarte. "She's good and surprised me. And then once we found her we jumped back in the game."

Throughout the season St. Mary's found its way back to No. 1 in various polls but some recently moved the Rams down to No. 2 and other publications are citing a major debate over who is No. 1 after Mater Dei avenged its only loss of the season.

"I said you guys should play with a chip on your shoulder because there's people questioning you, questioning how good you are," Gonsalves said of his pregame speech. "All you've been doing is beating people by 40 and I guess that's not good enough."

With the two teams coming from opposite sides of the state of California, they share only one common opponent outside of the matchup with each other -- Brea Olinda. St. Mary's beat Brea in the Nike TOC semifinals 67-66, a day before losing to Mater Dei in the championship game 66-60. Mater Dei played Brea Olinda twice, losing 47-43 in January and winning 51-46 in the SoCal Sectional championship game.

After the TOC, St. Mary's travelled to Alabama to play in the T-Mobile Invitational. There the Rams squared off with Mt. Lebanon (Pittsburgh, Pa.), a team that won the PIAA class 4A title, winning 61-52. The following day they played the hometown Hoover Buccaneers, giving the eventual Alabama 6A state champs their only loss of the season, 50-44.

"Seriously, you can argue on how you get ranked, but who is the best team at the end of the year. You saw us and you saw last night so you tell me," Gonsalves told the media. "I don't think there's a question."

The Rams' season speaks for itself but, in the world of rankings, overcoming a head-to-head loss to Mater Dei, especially in a setting such as the TOC championship game, is virtually impossible.

"I've tried to look at it from their point of view," Gonsalves said of Mater Dei's case for No. 1. "They've had some great wins but I think we're the better team.

"Who do you want to be in your rankings? The best team in the country? That's us and I'll leave it at that."

Follow us on Twitter, where you can ask questions and get instant updates.

Become a fan of the site on Facebook and get updates in your news stream.

Discuss this on our Message Board

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. Hansen can be reached at chris.hansen@espn3.com.