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With a handful of states' in the rearview mirror and state championship games around the corner for nearly everyone else, tensions are mounting, fans are going crazy and teams are trying to stay focused.
But what does that focus entail? With each state having a different bracketing system and state tournament setup, every coach takes a different approach to preparing for games and deciding when to play everyone and when it's best to rest a player or two. And no good coach is unfamiliar with their system's bracket.
Certainly, few coaches focus on the elusive and subjective national rankings. For teams that are still alive in their state's postseason, a loss can hurt those rankings while sometimes helping the team regroup at just the right time.
In Washington, then-No. 15 Kentwood (Covington, Wash.) put national and state rankings, and a district championship, on the backburner Saturday.
After clinching a state berth the previous week, Kentwood coach Keith Hennig opted to rest Lindsey Moore, the leading candidate for Washington's player of the year, after she suffered a muscle strain in Thursday's practice. Without their all-everything point guard, the Conquerors battled archrival Auburn Riverside (Auburn, Wash.) to the final buzzer for the district title but lost, 52-50.
Moore, who has a very competitive nature, did all she could from her spot on the bench, but came away more determined than before to win a state title. She said she was resting the injury and saving all her strength for the state tournament, which kicks off today.
On the opposite coast, St. Peter's (Staten Island, N.Y.) pulled the 62-49 upset of then-No. 4 St. Michael Academy (New York City) behind 50-percent shooting in the first half, 14 points from sophomore point guard Christina Kline and 11 from junior Catherine Lewis.
With the win, St. Peter's claimed the CHSAA Class AA Archdiocesan title, but St. Michael may have been the bigger winner. The CHSAA Class AA tournament's championship game is hosted by Christ the King. Now, instead of a likely meeting with Christ the King in the championship game, the two New York powers meet in the tournament's first round, the neutral court of Holy Trinity on Long Island.
And now, one loss is all it takes to be done for the season.
The first 1-2 showdown of the playoffs happened Friday in Texas, where Brittney Griner's then-No. 24 Nimitz (Houston) squad battled Kelsey Bone and then-No. 45 Dulles (Sugar Land, Texas) for a spot in the regional championship. Griner, who fouled out for the first time this season, had 27 points, eight blocks and seven rebounds before leaving the game with 3:46 to go in the third. But the Cougars, who raced out to a 23-7 lead after one quarter, stayed strong and defeated Dulles, 76-59. Bone finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. Nimitz followed it up with a win Saturday against regionally ranked Bellaire, earning a spot in the 5A final four.
It should come as no surprise that Indiana has top billing this week. In the mythical national championship game, undefeated powers No. 1 South Bend Washington (South Bend, Ind.) and No. 2 Ben Davis (Indianapolis) meet Saturday night for Indiana's 4A crown. Will McDonald's and WBCA All-American selection Skylar Diggins lead the Panthers to a second crown in their fourth straight title game appearance, or will the depth of talent from Ben Davis overwhelm the Panthers and earn the Giants their first title since 2001? And don't forget about the 2A championship, where No. 6 Heritage Christian has the chance to become the second program in state history to win four consecutive titles.
Off the bounce
No. 25 Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.) and No. 35 Cajon (San Bernadino, Calif.) meet Friday in the California Interscholastic Federation's Southern Section Division IA championship.
No. 7 Archbishop Carroll (Radnor, Pa.) and No. 10 Cardinal O'Hara (Springfield, Pa.) both won their postseason debuts against public-school competition with district titles. They start state tournament play this weekend.
No. 22 Westbury Christian (Houston) claimed the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools 4A title Saturday with a 72-44 win against Argyle Liberty Christian. Sophomore Amber Orrange led the Wildcats with 18 points.
Two Oregon schools who have spent time on the national scene met in a play-in game for the state tournament Friday. Behind 24 points from junior Brittany Knighton, Oregon City (Ore.) eliminated Southridge (Beaverton, Ore.), 58-46, for its 24th consecutive state tournament berth. Southridge had won the past four Oregon 6A crowns.
Then-No. 6 Oak Ridge (Tenn.) snapped a string of 35 consecutive district wins with a 52-47 loss Feb. 24 to Powell. The Wildcats were 4-of-22 from behind the arc in the game.
No. 23 Shabazz (Newark, N.J.) beat rival No. 32 University (Newark, N.J.), 61-50, Saturday for the Essex County Tournament. Shabazz claimed the trophy for the seventh time in eight years, after University won it in 2008.
Undefeated Neptune edged then-No. 28 St. John Vianney on Thursday for the Shore Conference title, 56-54.
East Lansing (Mich.) beat then-No. 17 Detroit Country Day (Beverly Hills, Mich.) on Feb. 24, 46-45, as Country Day committed 21 turnovers.
Friday in Nevada, Centennial beat Las Vegas rival Bishop Gorman for the 4A crown as junior Alexis Byrd hit two free throws with 0.5 seconds on the clock to tie the game and take the win, 59-58. The two programs have won the past eight 4A titles between then, with Gorman's streak of three snapped this season after it snapped Centennial's streak of four.
The championship thrillers continued Friday in Hawaii, as Konawaena (Hawaii) edged Honolulu favorite Punahou, 54-50, in two overtimes. Freshman Lia Galdreira led the young team from Konawaena with 23 points, nine rebounds and four steals. The two teams met in December's Iolani Classic, where Punahou won, 55-44.
Saturday in Alabama, senior point guard Jala Harris scored 21 points and led No. 28 Bob Jones (Madison, Ala.) to its second straight 6A crown with a 56-43 win against Hoover.
Among the states on the docket for crowning champions this week are Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas and Vermont, as well as select classifications in Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.
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Mindi Rice is a staff writer for ESPN HoopGurlz. She previously was an award-winning sportswriter at the Tacoma News Tribune and a barista at Starbucks, and grew up in Seattle, where she attended Roosevelt High School before graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the McDonald's All-American and Parade All-American Selection Committees, he formerly coached girls club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Records through March 1.