There was a definite California vibe during Day 2 of the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix. The Joe Smith Division semifinals featured four teams that were building a case for state supremacy and two stars who are taking their considerable talent to the Golden Bears next season. Here's a look at some of the day's highlights.
Game of the Day
On a day when Division I-signed stars were as easy to find as last-minute holiday shoppers, it was a freshman who was the difference-maker in the game of the day during Day 2 of the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix.
Ayanna Clark scored 20 points to lift No. 6 Long Beach Poly (Calif.) to a 72-64 win over St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.) in a Joe Smith Division showdown.
The game was a pressure-packed affair with each team going on short runs and converting off turnovers. Both backcourts played to a stalemate, but Clark, a 6-foot-1 center, ignited an 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter and put Poly in position for the win.
But it wasn't quite as simple as that between these two California contenders. After Poly pushed its lead to 57-49, Charise Holloway converted a 3-point play at the 3:11 mark to tie the game at 61-61.
But after that, it was all Poly, which was able to convert on free throws and an intentional foul to seal the win and improve to 5-0 on the season.
In addition to her 20 points, Clark also grabbed nine rebounds. Louisville-bound teammate Arica Carter added 10 points for the Jackrabbits.
Next up for Long Beach Poly, in the Joe Smith Division final, is No. 1 Mater Dei, which defeated St. Mary's (Berkeley, Calif.) 66-53 behind 28 points from Katie Lou Samuelson, the No. 2 junior in the country, and 12 from senior Peyton Langston.
Stars of the Day
Gabby Green, St. Mary's (Berkeley, Calif.): The California signee and No. 13 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100, dropped 17 points in a losing effort against Mater Dei. Perhaps the most versatile prospect in the 2014 class, the 6-1 Green brings a point/forward game.
Mikayla Cowling, St. Mary's (Berkeley, Calif.): Another California signee and Green's running mate, Cowling assisted in St. Mary's upset bid with 21 points. A smooth operator off the dribble to the arc, the 6-1 Cowling, the No. 11 prospect in the 2014 class, made her presence known against the Monarchs.
Charise Holloway, St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.): The 5-8 Arizona signee brings a potent scoring punch to the St. Mary's backcourt. The core leader of the team fouled out in the closing minutes of the loss to Poly, finishing with 19 points.
Rising to the Occasion
Mi'Cole Cayton, St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.): We have a newcomer alert! The 5-7 sophomore combo guard brings a confident swagger and streaky range to the arc. Cayton is a catalyst for her team and wears her emotions on her sleeve. She scored 16 points in the game of the day against Long Beach Poly.
Day 3 Outlook
California's top two teams have survived plenty of scares and will play each other in the final of the Joe Smith Division. Top-ranked Mater Dei, the defending Nike TOC champion, and No. 6 Long Beach Poly should make for a grand finale to the tournament. And give the winner bragging rights, at least for a while. One interesting note is that Long Beach Poly still is without two of its impact players. Transfers Lajahna Drummer, a UCLA signee, and Emoni Jackson, a Michigan signee, won't be eligible until early next month.
The championship game in the Blue Division is certainly worth a look-see as well. No. 9 Windward (Los Angeles) faces Nazareth (N.Y.). Led by South Carolina signee Bianca Cuevas, Nazareth already has knocked off two California contenders in Carondelet (71-64) and No. 11 Etiwanda (58-50). Windward, led by seniors Jordin Canada and Kristen Simon, has taken down two East Coast powerhouses in St. Anthony's of New York (65-54) and No. Southwest Dekalb of Georgia (67-45).