CHANDLER, Ariz. -- The one thing common of good teams is they have good players. On arguably the biggest stage in girls' high school basketball, the scene was set for some terrific performances and this quartet of players for the Nike Tournament of Champions' Joe Smith Division championship game stood out in a packed gym at Hamilton High School.
The Monarchs depend on the scoring of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis on a regular basis. The No. 2 ranked prospect in the 2011 class is easily the best shooter and scorer in the nation, regardless of class. The scoring was there again in the championship game, 27 points, shooting four of eight from 3-point range.
The 6-foot junior missed nearly four minutes at the end of the second quarter as Mater Dei coach Kevin Kiernan tried to keep her from getting her third personal foul. Mosqueda-Lewis's team missed her scoring but what was also evident is that they missed her defensively, perhaps even more. She did a fantastic job of denying Duke-bound Chelsea Gray the ball. Keeping the ball away from Gray took the engine away from the St. Mary's machine. While Mosqueda-Lewis is not the most athletic player on the floor, the Connecticut-bound wing has an extremely high basketball I.Q. and completely understood the concept of a full-denial defensive assignment. She was also one of the team's leading rebounders. When she left the game the St. Mary's offense got going with easy buckets and that really swung the tide of the game which, in the first half, was close to getting out of hand.
Mosqueda-Lewis also entertained with her scoring repertoire. As usual she shot the leather off the ball from long range and continued to show she can create shots off the dribble and convert with a hand in her face. She created those shots so efficiently against the Rams that she didn't go to the line as much as most players who score similar numbers. She definitely earned the tournament MVP award.
In big games a lot of good teams rely on role players, not stars, to step up and make game-changing plays. For Mater Dei senior forward Jessica Duarte was that player. When the Monarchs needed a little extra offense she was there to knock down a three or get a put back on the offensive glass.
Duarte was basically playing the post when she was in and at 5-11 that's not ideal height, but she was clutch. With the first quarter winding down, she hit two 3-pointers that extended the Mater Dei lead into double digits. For the rest of the game she found scoring in spots with the jumper and around the basket but her rebounding was key because St. Mary's was not making their perimeter shots and giving them second chances usually results in three points. She used her body well to battle in the lane when matched up against 6-2 Kendall Kenyon. She was the second scorer that the team needed to hang on against a surging St. Mary's team.
When things go cold for the No. 1 team in the country, someone has to step up and make things happen. St. Mary's guard Afure Jemerigbe was the one ray of hope for the Rams against Mater Dei's active, aggressive and rotating defense. The HoopGurlz 100 No. 15 and Cal-bound senior attacked off the dribble getting into the paint time and again. Despite producing 16 points, her penetration resulted in a challenging evening with several shots rolling out and two player-control fouls being called on her efforts.
Even with the mixed results and disappointing outcome of the game, it's easy to see the potential that Jemerigbe has tapped into. Her explosive first step is not only quick but lengthy as well. The ground she covers off her first dribble gets her past virtually any defender and creates the opportunity for either the pull up or the finish at the rim. Whether it's a jumper or a shot in traffic, she elevates and creates open looks and often gets to the line. St. Mary's stagnant offense limited her ability to create options for her teammates from her penetration against the Monarchs.
Athletically she's got strength, speed and quickness that some current college players can only hope for. She's willing to mix it up defensively and has the lateral speed to match up at any perimeter spot. On top of that, the tools are there to be an exceptional rebounder from the guard spot.
Offering some impressive support to Jemerigbe was 6-2 Kendall Kenyon. The long, lean junior forward made her presence felt on virtually every play at both ends of the floor. Exhibiting a reach usually reserved for much taller athletes, she pulled in or got a hand on rebound after rebound. At the offensive end she was able to convert several of the Ram's many errant shots into stick-backs finishing the contest with 14 points of her own. While the majority of her touches came off the glass, Kenyon went back up with a soft touch and an effective floater around the rim.
Her active play, agility and long arms also make her a formidable defender. In trapping situations she forces smaller guards to throw over the top and leave the ball in the air longer for her anticipating teammates behind her. The foot speed is there to play her on the front of a press and her wide on-ball stance makes attacking the rim difficult for any opponent hoping to put it on the floor and create.
The addition of her own post-up game as well as some high post scoring options could make her the kind of forward that recruiters are struggling to find these days. She'll need to add some strength and fill out to find the same success at the next level but the potential is eye catching.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at email@example.com.
Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.