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One for Coach Jackson

4/18/2011
Moriah Jefferson and her teammates had plenty to smile about on championship day at Boo Williams. Chris Hansen/ESPN.com

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- The Boo Williams Nike Invitational is one of the toughest club basketball tournaments on the circuit. Winning the gold bracket of the elite division is no small feat. But there was calmness during and after DFW T-Jack Elite's 68-63 win over the Philadelphia Belles.

This win was part of a two-piece promise the team made last spring when the program lost its director and leader, Marques Jackson, to a heart attack.

"Our main thing was Coach Jackson," Ashley Eli said. "This was the weekend of his funeral so it's a really emotional weekend for us and we just really wanted to do it for him. So it's not so much winning a tournament but just more doing it to make him proud and we know he's looking over us."

This DFW team, whose core has been together since the eighth grade, missed this tournament a year ago to attend Jackson's funeral. But this resilient group had two goals this season -- win Boo and win Nike Nationals.

Standing in the way of accomplishing the first goal was the nation's No. 1 ranked rising senior, Breanna Stewart, and her Belles team.

"I just try to go in with no fear. I mean I know she's huge and I know she's Breanna, but I just try not to think of it like that," Eli said. "I try to think we're playing a basketball game and I try to get away from the name brands so it doesn't affect me so much."

DFW was missing its only true post player, Baylor commit Kristina Higgins, and instead of panicking about how to deal with Stewart, who at 6 feet 4 has the nickname "6-10" because of her wingspan, they came out and played their style of basketball -- lots of ball pressure and lots of running.

Neisha Pederson, who like fellow frontcourt teammate Eli is just 5-10, thought the team's strategy for defending Stewart was pretty simple: "Just stay low, make sure you try to get in front and force the turnover."

"The goal wasn't necessarily to stop her, but to make her have a tough time," Eli added.

DFW didn't stop Stewart -- she scored 16 points and commanded plenty of attention from weakside defenders -- but this group of Texas hoopers did force the Belles to turn the ball over.

The ball pressure bothered the Belles guards enough that Philly's patience on the offensive end to get the ball inside was minimal. Destiny Brown scored a game-high 18 points, but on this afternoon it wasn't meant to be for the Belles.

Moriah Jefferson, the No. 2 player in the 2012 class according to ESPN HoopGurlz, led DFW with 12 points but the team's balance and chemistry were obvious advantages that helped neutralize a major difference in height. The team had just one spell in the second half when it they forgot to move the ball with the pass and got dribble happy, but for the most part the team shared the wealth and star players and role players alike made big plays.

"I think we just understand the players we have and what everybody can do," Eli said. "Everybody knows everybody's strengths so we don't try to play to other people's strengths, we try to play to our strengths."

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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. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at chris.hansen@espn.com.