Ahead by just four points heading into the fourth quarter, the University High School girls varsity basketball squad was determined to make the last eight minutes its finest all season.
The Wildcats increased their intensity on defense and quickened their pace on offense to outscore Marshall 25-13 in the fourth quarter and win the L.A. City Section Division III championship with a resounding 62-46 victory Saturday at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Fueling the victory was senior center Myangel Johnson, who had 20 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks.
"We were very confident because we've beaten them before, but still we had to play hard as if we never played them," said Johnson, referring to the Wildcats' 54-39 triumph at the L.A. Fairfax Tournament in January. "Playing in such a tough league like we do helped make us better. This is an unbelievable feeling."
Junior guard Brittany Martin had 15 points and three assists and freshman forward Precious Nwaba added 14 points and 15 rebounds and Emily Cameron added 11 points for the sixth-seeded Wildcats (17-9), including a steal and layup that gave her team a 37-33 lead at the the end of the third quarter.
It was an especially satisfying result for Coach Jim Nakabara, who piloted the boys program for 29 years, reaching the 3A final in 1986 before retiring as athletic director in 2010. He can now add the girls' first title to his career highlights.
"This is my first year back and it's been a great experience with the girls team," said Nakabara, who took over for two-year coach Janine Bianchi. "You have to coach them a little differently. The girls have made the finals four times but this is the first time they've won so that's nice to see."
Senior forward Sarah Takizawa-Maclean scored 18 points and pulled down 11 rebounds and guard Courtney Wong scored all nine of her points in the first half for the ninth-seeded Barristers (19-10), who took their only lead, 31-30, on a layup by Takizawa-Maclean with 3:02 remaining in the third quarter. Cameron immediately answered with a three-pointer to put University back on top.
The Barristers finished second in the Northern League and upset eighth-seeded Locke, top-seeded Gardena and fifth-seeded Cleveland on their way to the final. The Wildcats earned their spot in the final with victories over 11th-seeded South East, third-seeded Kennedy and seventh-seeded Bell.
The Wildcats finished fourth in the tough Western League at 6-6 and became the second team to win a City title this season. Palisades won the Division II title Friday, holdng off North Hills Monroe 43-39.
Johnson had nothing but praise for Nakabara: "He's amazing. He knows what he's doing, whether it be with the boys or girls. He's a big reason we're here."
Senior forward Raina James had four rebounds and four assists, freshman center Bianca Romero had two rebounds and senior guard Jasmin Lopez had two points to round out the scoring for University, which had lost in its three previous City championship game appearances--the Invitational finals in 2006 and 2008 and the 3A final to Marshall in 1990.
Score by Quarters