That is what I am talking about! Referees getting booed! Daddies coaching from the stands and mamas acting like cheerleaders. A few local ministers and church deacons on Sunday acting up on Friday night. Fans filling the bleachers and talking crazy. "That girl is busting three's in their face", says one little boy leaving the gym as I arrive late in the first quarter. He was mimicking the girl who was busting threes as it rained on his bald uncovered head. I already knew he was not alone in his excitement as I walked seemingly forever across the crowded parking lot to the gym. I was like a kid myself. The two currently top ranked teams in the city, going at it, in an on-campus gym. The rain could not dampen the mood of everyone in attendance. The atmosphere mixed with these caliber of players and the style of play made this one to remember. In the end, Wagner prevailed 55-47.
The first thing you notice when these teams are on the floor is all the talent. Besides talent, the athleticism is special. At one time on the floor, the ten players were: Len'Nique Brown, Arielle Roberson, Ebony Watkins, Ashley Catlett, and Chelsea Solis. Now that is probably as athletic as San Antonio gets until you see Meighan Simmons, Olivia Patterson, Elena Gumbs, Taylor Calvert and Destinee Showell matched up against them. Some game observations follow:
Speed Kills- The Steele back court of Simmons, Patterson and Gumbs is ridiculously fast. They hounded Len'Nique the entire game. Gumbs feet are as fast as any in the city laterally. Only the occasional crossing of her feet allows offensive players to beat her off of the dribble. Those occasions are rare as she and Patterson are like piranhas when attacking ball handlers. Patterson has always been one of the better on-ball defenders in the city. My impressionable daughter marvels repeatedly at the size and stature of Patterson's arms, she is yoked. All this on ball pressure allows Simmons to lay back in wait and read passing lanes. She is the predator allowing her partners to chase prey into her clutches.
Street Ballers- Wagner has three players that have undoubtedly honed their skills playing street ball. Chelsea Solis, Ashley Cattlett and Ebony Watkins all have a flare for the game. All three players bring excitement to the game with impromptu plays that probably make Coach Camacho cringe at times. These players PLAY! Ebony Watkins can be a star in this city if she wants to be. She is long at 6'0, with a decent handle and an attitude that believes she is capable. Her presence was huge last night. She allowed Len'Nique to play off of the ball a few times during a crucial stretch and scored 4 points during that time. Catlett is one of my favorite players. She is tough and fearless. She is the vocal leader of the T-Birds. Her 6 second half points were huge but one score was particularly nice. She was matched up with Simmons on the left baseline as the T-birds were mounting a comeback. She faked a pass and exploded with a cross step move going baseline. With two dribbles, she was at the rim making an unorthodox layup with her strong hand on the weak side over the outstretched hands of a jumping Simmons. Not text book but very effective and very street! I have said it before and must repeat it again, with Watkins and Catlett available playing for Wagner last year, they beat Pflugerville in the playoffs.. Their athleticism evens the score in that game.
Uncle Mo(mentum)- I was always instilled with the old maxim that "Basketball is a game of runs". This game proved the truth in that statement. At the end of the 3rd quarter the score was 39-33 Steele. Simmons came out immediately and scored on a beautiful hanging lay up. Score 41-33, Steele. Wagner then preceded to go on a 16-2 run! When Coach Wallace called a timeout to stop the bleeding, her squad was down 49-41. Steele was limited to 4 points in the first six minutes of the 4th quarter. During this onslaught, Arielle Roberson went to work. She scored 9 points during this period. In fact, Roberson outscored the entire Steele team, 9-8 in the 4th quarter.
Getting Defensive- This game was so exciting to watch as both teams played man defense for the majority of the game. Fans were treated to great basketball plays by individuals. We also got a chance to see how athletic and tenacious the defenders were. We had the opportunity to see Ashley Catlett guarding Olivia Patterson at half court. We got a chance to see Len'Nique Brown take on the challenge of denying Meighan Simmons on the wing. The sight of the Taylor Calvert fighting to front Arielle Roberson was reminincent of a rodeo rider trying to stay on awnry bull. Calvert did not back down. This was what everyone was here to see. Two teams going at it and challenging each other mano a mano. Or mija to mija. Or whatever! They were Balling! Then Camacho flipped the switch and showed while she runs this town like Jay-Z and Rhianna record. She went to a 3/4 court, 1-2-2 zone that pushed the efficient Patterson to one side of the floor and away from Simmons. She put the extremely long Watkins at the top of the aggressive zone and changed the game. She kept the lightning quick back court of Patterson and Gumbs out of the paint. The length and speed of the extended zone made it hard for the smaller guards for Steele to get uncontested looks.
Stars will be Stars- The games most heralded players played as such. Meighan Simmons was the reason for the outburst from the hyper little boy "busting" threes like her in the rain at the beginning of the game. She reportedly came out in fire. She reportedly scored the first 7 points for Steele. In fact, one text I received while on the way to the game read the score for the game was 7-2 Simmons over Wagner. She then went on the score the first 12 out 14 points. Simmons hits threes from 25 feet, jumped in passing lanes and double pumped layups for scores. She was simply Meighan Simmons. She finish with 25 points.
Len'Nique Brown was Chris Paul-ish last night. She was pressured all night by the speedy Gumbs and Patterson. She guarded Simmons throughout the 2nd half. She facilitated and scored when needed. Len'Nique kept her team in it during the first half when Steele and Simmons went on a their run. Brown touched the paint whenever she wanted to. One particular sequence in the first half saw Brown score 6 points in less than 40 seconds. One of the scores was a slicing layup that saw Brown break her defender down with an in and out dribble move at the top of the key and hit the gap like a running back. She took off from a two feet jump and completed a slide layup in traffic. The beautiful thing was that she jumped and let the defender come down while she windmilled the layup in. Another shot has come to define Len'Nique. She drove hard going left and Patterson was there step for step. Brown then raised up in the air for a runner off of the glass from the middle of the key. The shot is distinct because most runners do not go against the grain. Her immediate and explosive elevation makes the shot hard to guard. She finished with 14 points and numerous assists.
Arielle Roberson was the deciding factor. Her inside presence was key. She finished with 16 points but blocked or changed a lot of shots. Her rebounding was instrumental but her ability to help relieve pressure by handling the ball on the perimeter is overlooked. She is the tallest and longest kid on the floor but her skill set is allowing her to spread the floor and increase driving lanes for her teammates. The big lefty is making sense of her body and is getting to be very good!
In conclusion, I am in LOVE again! I complained about the style of play that led to uninspired games earlier this week. I must applaud Coach Wallace and Coach Camacho for letting the girls play. They realized that the playoffs and state tournament would have teams that resembled last nights' game and this was a great warm up for that eventual stage. They both have a legitimate shot at going back to Austin in early March. What a game! What a crowd! The talent was refreshing!!! The only bad thing was that it did not go into overtime.