Great night for Knights!

It was the kind of nip-and-tuck affair you'd expect from two of the nation's premier girls basketball teams, two athletic squads that had yet to taste defeat all season long. But with the game and CIF-Southern Section Div. I-AA title on the line Friday night, one player stood taller than all the rest. Sophomore sensation Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood scored Lynwood High's last six points as the national No. 1 Knights held off Long Beach Poly, 53-50, before 5,000 fans at the Pyramid in Long Beach.

With strong interior passing and tough, in-your-face defense, Poly (31-1) was able to build and maintain a lead for most of the first half against Lynwood, which struggled to get anything going from outside 10 feet. The lead sustained itself through the opening moments of the third quarter, until the Knights started to find the (long) range. Trailing 34-32, Lynwood reeled off 10 straight points, sparked by two treys from guard Andrea Adams, as part of a 15-3 run to close out the quarter.

Lynwood's lead grew to nine, 45-36, when Janice Bright banked one from the left side with 6:55 left in the game, but the Nebraska-bound senior severely sprained her left ankle on the play, leaving Poly with the opening it was looking for. A 6-0 run ensued, capped by a Daisy Benjamin turnaround jumper, and that quickly, Poly was back in the game, trailing by only three, 45-42. The Jackrabbits inched to within two points at 47-45 on a bucket by Aja Trotter and a Trotter free throw before Wiley-Gatewood, considered the nation's best sophomore, took over the game.

Despite playing with painful shin splints, the flashy guard hit a floater from the left baseline to open up a four-point Knight lead. And, after a free throw and Benjamin drive pulled Poly within one with 1:20 left, Wiley-Gatewood got in the paint again for a tough lay-in that gave Lynwood a three-point lead.

Judith Smith tried an off-balance three pointer in the closing seconds for Poly but her shot was off the mark. Benjamin rebounded and scored from in close to pull the Jackrabbits within one with 2.9 seconds remaining, but Wiley-Gatewood sealed the win with two free throws with 0.1 seconds showing on the clock.

Wiley-Gatewood led Lynwood (28-0) with a game-high 20 points. "We knew we had to play hard when Janice went out," she said. "What we did was focus. We knew everybody had to score."

Bright finished with 12 points before hobbling off. Her status for the Southern California regionals is unknown, but it didn't look good by the way she was favoring the ankle during the post-game awards ceremony. "The rest of our players will just have to step up," said Knight head coach Ellis Barfield. "That's what we do in team sports. To be undefeated to this point in the season speaks highly of these girls. No matter what happens, they're still the best."

Trotter paced Poly with 18 points, while Benjamin had 10 and Cynthia Buggs added eight. There are no moral victories, but Buggs was proud of her team.

"I thought we played a great game," she said. "We never gave up and fought until the end."

In other CIF-SS girls action from Friday night:

CIF-SS Div. II-A: Redondo Union 42, North Torrance 30

Behind Ofa Tulikihihifo's nine points, the Sea Hawks (23-7) outscored North Torrance, 20-6, in the decisive third quarter to break open what had been an ugly defensive struggle to that point. How bad was it for North? The Saxons were outscored, 3-0, in the first quarter and even though they led, 9-8, at the half, they had made just 1-of-18 field goal attempts. It didn't get any better in the pivotal third quarter for North, which hit on only 1-of-11 shots as Redondo built a 28-15 lead.

When North attempted to mount a comeback, senior Jennifer Owens was there to blunt the charge, scoring six key points in the final stanza. Owens credited a pep talk from head coach Marcelo Enriquez for the team's third quarter turnaround. "He told us to get the nerves out because we were playing really scared," she said. "He wanted us to play offense the way we were playing defense."

CIF-SS Div. III-A: Bishop Montgomery 61, Muir 54

Tennessee-bound superstar center Ty'esha Fluker dominated the boards and had 21 first half points as Muir (24-5) built a 35-26 lead at the break against the two-time defending state champion Knights. But Fluker picked up her fourth foul with 2:35 left in the third quarter. That's when Bishop's superstar, Noelle Quinn, stepped up to lead her team back. The junior forward scored 15 second half points, including back-to-back triples late in the fourth quarter, as the Knights (24-5) outscored the Mustangs, 18-4, over the game's last five minutes. Fluker finished with 23 points to lead Muir, but was largely ineffective in the second half.

CIF-SS Div. V-A: Pilgrim 71, Baptist Christian 33

Baptist Christian came into the contest unbeaten, but Pilgrim was the higher ranked team and showed why. The Lady Pats stormed to a 20-5 first quarter lead –Sharae Benitez and Brittany James both outscored the Warriors by themselves – and never looked back. Amber Cunningham finished with 19 points, 12 in the second half, to lead Pilgrim, which improved to 26-3. Jamie DeKiewiet led Baptist Christian (23-1) with 10 points.

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