New No. 1 team imminent

Brea Olinda's Keitra Wallace gets sandwiched by a pair of Bolingbrook defenders, including Kierra Ray (30). Wallace and her Ladycat teammates survived to win the semifinal and advance to a Nike Tournament of Champions final against Long Beach Poly. Glenn Nelson/ESPN.com

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Some of them grew up together; they live minutes apart. They call themselves friendly rivals.

And here they go again, shaking up the hood.

Long Beach Poly upset the nation's top team, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) in the first semifinal of Tuesday's Nike Tournament of Champions, 61-56. Then Poly watched neighboring Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.) survive a double-overtime thriller in the second semi, beating back Bolingbrook (Bolingbrook, Ill.) 59-54.

Next up: Wednesday's elite tournament crown and the bragging rights of becoming the No. 1 team in the nation. Many consider this the de facto national championship.

Poly and Brea know each other well, maybe a little too well. They played a couple weeks ago at Brea's gym, with Brea storming back from a 10-point deficit to win by seven.

"It'll be nice to face them in a neutral spot,'' Poly coach Carl Buggs said after his Jackrabbits toppled Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), last year's TOC and national champs.

"Carl and I are close friends,'' Brea coach Jeff Sink said. "We won't be able to come up with anything to surprise each other."

Left on the championship sideline is Mater Dei, also in California's golden triangle of girls' hoops, despite a 33-point performance from Connecticut-bound Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who played every second in her team's loss despite suffering a bad ankle sprain the previous day.

"I didn't think she was ever going to miss a shot," Buggs said.

Mosqueda-Lewis scored 25 of her points with five three-pointers in a near-flawless first half.

"The trainers worked on her all day," said losing coach Kevin Kiernan. "She was about 80 percent , but they gave her the OK to play. She was supposed to let us know when it was time to come out."

She never did, and was the steam in Mater Dei's engine. Poly's Tajanae Winston was switched to hound her in the second half, allowing a new star to emerge: Ariya Crook-Williams, who will take her whirling dervish point-guard skills from Poly to USC next year.

Crook-Williams scored 18 of her 26 points in the second half but finished the last moments on the bench, nursing a badly split upper lip that met up with an unintentional elbow from Mater Dei's Jordan Adams.

The loser's bracket is new territory for Mater Dei which doesn't lose much -- 32-1 last season and now 8-1 this year.

"Poly really wanted to win," Kiernan said. "When you're the target, you lose your hunter mentality. We've been in that position for quite a while. Now we get to see how we handle defeat."

Kiernan hopes his players take a lesson in the loss so they don't go home with yet another loss. Poly is only too happy to have been the teacher.

"Now we want to play Brea and get even," Crook-Williams said.

Brea's 6-foot-2 post Justine Hartman tucked in a team-hjgh 21 points, but it was the nine points by junior Jeanier Olukemi that made the difference as they all were scored in overtime. She was empty handed until then.

"I'm not worried about points,'' she said later. "The last time we played Poly I had 12 rebounds, and that's what I need to do. Keep pushing, keeping fighting.''

"She's a whirlwind, the best athlete I've ever coached," Sink said admiringly. "She locked it down. What a great, great game."

And now to see who's best on the Orange County block.

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Cathy Henkel is the former long-time Sports Editor at The Seattle Times, with a 42-year newspaper career in Kansas, Arizona, Oregon and Washington. She covered high school and college basketball as a reporter in Oregon for 10 years, and watched her father coach prep sports while growing up in Kansas. She was named a Pioneer Award winner in 2005 by the Association for Women in Sports Media, an organization she helped found, and was named an outstanding alum at Wichita State University the same year. She also has a master's degree in counseling from the University of Arizona.