- Mindi Rice
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HONOLULU -- The showdown was rarely heated.
No emotions got the best of players, no punches were thrown and the game wasn't even all that close after No. 3 Long Beach Poly pulled an 11-0 run on No. 2 Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) early in the third quarter.
In essence, it was just another case of the Jackrabbits' deep and talented squad wearing out a team that didn't have similar depth.
In the Iolani Classic championship, Poly, now 8-0, made its case for No. 1 in the ESPN RISE Fab 50 with a 51-36 win against the higher-ranked Irish (5-1).
"This win is real big," said USC-bound senior Monique Oliver, who led the Jackrabbits with 16 and was named tournament MVP.
Oliver was the reason Poly took off early, as she scored nine in the first quarter, but junior guard Ashley Wilson was part of the late surge, scoring eight third-quarter points as Poly held Sacred Heart scoreless for five-and-a-half minutes.
"This meant a lot to us after last year," said Wilson, who finished with nine while her twin, Brittany, added 10. "We came to prove them wrong."
In Saturday's other games, Oregon City beat Farrington 41-22 for third, while Westlake (Atlanta, Ga.) beat Punahou 51-48 for fifth. Konawaena beat Iolani 59-48 in the all-Hawaii seventh-place game.
For the Jackrabbits, the tournament win was a solid warmup for their next stop: the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix. Poly opens Thursday with No. 25 Chaminade-Julienne (Dayton, Ohio), which is powered by Samarie Walker, who is No. 1 in the ESPN HoopGurlz Super Sixty for 2010.
The Irish return to San Francisco with a winning streak that began in January 2007 snapped at 61 games. Sacred Heart has 10 days to prepare for its next opponent, Eastside Prep (Palo Alto, Calif.). The Iolani tournament was the only holiday tournament coach Brian Harrigan scheduled this season.
Harrigan was pleased despite the loss, saying he was proud of the effort his team gave considering Poly's obvious advantage was its depth. The Jackrabbits had 10 girls play, while Harrigan only brought in two from his bench because of its inexperience. Tierra Rogers and Ki-Shawna Moore led the Irish with 11 points each.
"We're going to have to find a little more depth, whether it's the younger ones that will learn or girls that are back home," Harrigan said. "When we subbed, they took advantage of our subs right away and we had to get the starters back in."
Saturday's other big game came between Westlake and Punahou, as Hawaii's reigning Division I champs battled the tall, athletic team from Atlanta.
The Buff n' Blue's free-throw shooting kept them in the game in the first half, as Punahou (4-2) scored 16 of its 23 first-half points from the line, but Georgia-bound Tamika Willis scored 23 points to lead Westlake to a three-point victory.
Cal State Northridge signee Janelle Nomura led the game with 25 for Punahou. The Buff n' Blue went 1-2 in the tournament, but lost to Sacred Heart and Westlake by a combined four points.
As for Westlake (5-1), which spent all Wednesday traveling then lost to Farrington by one Thursday, the tournament wasn't a complete loss with a 2-1 showing, despite coming in with high expectations as the fourth-ranked team in the country.
"We'd like to apologize to the United States of America for our first game," a good-spirited Hankerson said after Saturday's win. "We didn't bring the team that we know to the show. ... That jet lag is a monster.
"We've got a lot of kids this year who don't have experience in close situations. They have to learn to play their roles. It's our philosophy that, though in the Constitution all men are created equal, all basketball players are not. ... We only give the green light to a couple of kids, the rest we have to harness."
In Oregon City's win, nine different players scored for the Pioneers (2-1). Junior Brittany Knighton, who is recovering from ACL surgery during the summer, sat out the game as a precaution after experiencing a bit of swelling in her knee after playing in Oregon City's first two games of the tournament.
"If this was the state championship, she would have played," coach Kurt Guelsdorf said. "But it's not worth it in December."
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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.