Like a prelude to open a show, the St. Mary’s trio of Danielle and Dominique Williams, and Chloe Johnson walked up to half-court at Wells Fargo Arena. In ritual-like fashion, they look over their competition; then, they break in a dead sprint running from side-to-side of the floor.
“That’s just our thing. We get warmed up, we get hyped,” said Johnson. “Then we come out running 100 percent when the game starts.”
Maybe too hyped for awhile, after letting their competition build a lead by the 3:14 mark of the first quarter. But the Knights righted the ship, built their own 9-point tear and glided to a 57-31 victory against Chandler in the quarterfinals of the girls Div. I state tournament on Monday night.
“We just can’t start out anxious,” said St. Mary’s coach Curtis Ekmark. “I think we wanted to win the game in the first five minutes. I just told them that it’s a 32-minute game and we need to settle down and play St. Mary’s basketball.”
After Chandler’s Beatriz Martinez hit a jumper with 6:50 left in the second quarter to knot the game at 15-15, the Knights went on an 11-0 run, thanks mostly to stingy defense and crisp passes.
“[In practice] we try to keep the ball moving and not let it touch the floor,” Johnson. “Passing is the most important part of offense, so (having an intense practice) helps us a lot.”
By the end of the first half, St. Mary’s tallied 11 steals, and despite shooting 1-for-15 from three-point range, they were comfortably ahead by seven.
“We work on defense all the time; that’s the primary thing we do at St. Mary’s,” Ekmark said. “We work on defense and passing every day.”
The defensive intensity continued into the second half, which saw the Wolves commit eight turnovers in the third quarter mostly due to full-court defensive pressure. The Knights capitalized and grabbed their biggest lead — 32 points — with five minutes left in the game at 57-25.
Johnson was the largest benefactor of that production with 24 points, while Courtney Ekmark logged 21. Jazmyne Bartee led the Wolves (19-10) with 10 points.
With the win the Knights (27-1), which sport a roster with five seniors, move on to face Hamilton in the semifinals.
“I’m blessed. It’s just such a privilege and an honor to coach these kids," Curtis Ekmark said. "Their basketball IQ is just so high that we can make adjustments on the fly better than any team I think in the country.”
St. Mary's 57, Chandler 31