How St. Mary's Survived Desert Heat To Win Nike Tournament of Champions

St. Mary's collected four wins and a big trophy at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona. Courtesy Nicc Jackson

PHOENIX -- You didn't really think St. Mary's (Stockton, California) was going to march through the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona without feeling a little heat, did you? The No. 1 team in the nation caught fire when Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Maryland) got close in the final, and went on to claim the most prestigious national title of the season.

Here are our takeaways from the final day of action.

Game of the day

With just over three minutes to go, No. 1 St. Mary's was sweating.

The Rams' 11-point fourth-quarter lead over No. 7 Riverdale Baptist was down to one.

Cue the seniors.

Nebraska signee Mi'Cole Cayton and Oregon State signee Kat Tudor hit clutch 3-pointers for St. Mary's to give the Rams some breathing room, and they went on to post a 75-70 win and improved to 10-0 on the season.

St. Mary's started the game off in style, getting a couple of big 3-pointers from Tudor and running out to a 22-15 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Play leaned toward the sloppy side in the second quarter, with turnovers and missed layups haunting both teams. St. May's took a 40-32 lead into halftime.

The intensity picked up in the third quarter. Mangela Ngandjui, a UNC-Greensboro signee, stepped up in the paint for Riverdale Baptist, grabbing rebounds and hitting putbacks to close the gap to two.

St. Mary's felt the pressure and took off in a sprint. The Rams worked the lead back up to 11 with 6:41 to go.

But a technical foul on St. Mary's point guard Sierra Smith at the 4:22 mark opened the door for Riverdale Baptist one last time. With Smith on the bench, the Crusaders went on their run to cut it to one.

But Tudor and Cayton took charge to seal the win. Sensational sophomore Aquira DeCosta scored 21 points for the Rams.

Stars of the day

Grace Berger: The 5-foot-10 sophomore shooting guard helped lift Sacred Heart (Louisville, Kentucky) to a 59-56 win over Destiny Slocum and Mountain View (Idaho) in the John Anderson Division. Berger, who was smooth off the dribble and displayed a sweet touch on her jump shot, delivered 26 points.

Destiny Slocum: Think for a minute the Maryland signee and USA Basketball gold medalist is going to be outdone? Think again. Slocum scored 24 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists in defeat. The No. 7 prospect in the nation played the part, delivering off the dribble and beyond the arc with effortless precision.

Aquira DeCosta: The nation's No. 1 sophomore had 21 points in the final for St. Mary's and earned Most Valuable Player honors. And that's not the most impressive part. She also did all the little things that lead to big wins. The ultra-athletic forward continually battled on the glass, finishing plays or earning trips to the foul line throughout the game. Also a vital component to the St. Mary's pressure, DeCosta is a depressing sight for the opposition when playing on the front of a 1-2-2 full court zone defense.

Statement of the day

This one goes to Centennial (Las Vegas), which continued to look like a national powerhouse in the third-place game of the Joe Smith Division and held on for a 75-66 win over Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, California). After racing out to a big lead early, the score was tied 60-60 with 5:54 to go. But Centennial burst away, going on a 15-6 run to end the game and claimed third place. Bellevue (Washington) also left an impression, claiming the title in the John Anderson Division with a 44-39 win over Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, California).


Here is the all-tournament team for the John Anderson Division:

MVP: Anna Wilson, Bellevue (Washington)

Sydne Wiggins, Harrison (Kennesaw, Georgia)

Grace Berger, Sacred Heart Academy (Louisville, Kentucky)

Destiny Slocum, Mountain View (Idaho)

Sydney Boyer, Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, California)

Leilah Vigil, Highlands Ranch (Colorado)

Sydni Harvey, Brentwood Academy (Tennessee)

Tatiana Streun, Bellevue (Washington)

Katie Campbell, Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, California)

Alaysia Styles, La Jolla Country Day (California)

Reili Richardson, Brea Olinda (California)

Here is the all-tournament team for the Joe Smith Division:

MVP: Aquira DeCosta, St. Mary's (Stockton, California)

Mi'Cole Cayton, St. Mary's (Stockton, California)

Kaila Charles, Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Maryland)

Morgan Smith, Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Maryland)

Allyson Rosenblum, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, California)

Lindsey Pulliam, Good Counsel (Olney, Maryland)

Danae Miller, Long Beach Poly (California)

Valerie Higgins, Chaminade (West Hills, California)

Madeline Holland, Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, California)

Justice Ethridge, Centennial (Las Vegas)

Jeannie Boehm, New Trier (Winnetka, Illinois)