Girls: USA Cup Championship Game

The End of the Trail champion Boo Williams was unable to overcome Indiana The Family at the Nike USA Cup in Chicago yesterday. The Family took on the All Ohio Black team that defeated the NY Liberty Belles to advance to the much-anticipated match-up between two of the most impressive post players in the Nike Cup field.

In a surprising and welcome change of schedule, the final game of the USA Nike Cup was held mid-morning, most likely to accommodate all of the college coaches who had early afternoon flights out of Chicago. The stands were packed to watch The Family's Ta'Shia Phillips go head to head against All Ohio's Jantel Lavender.

The game started out as everyone expected with both teams going inside to their stars. Phillips got around Lavender for the first bucket of the game while on the other end of the floor, Lavender dropped in a sweet baby hook with her left hand to lead off the All Ohio team.

The Family has some terrific shooters and one of them, Beth Marshall, a 5-5 guard, made a two consecutive three pointers to give The Family the lead. All Ohio continued to go inside to Lavender with some success as she could score over Phillips with a variety of shots, the most impressive of which was a catch, turn and shoot while elevating up over Phillips.

The tempo of the game was quick but due to the quality of both teams, was never out of control. Both stars went out for a rest while The Family's Suzie Owens, a 5-10 forward, and All Ohio's very promising Ayanna Dunning, a 6-2 rising sophomore, took over the scoring burden for their teams.

Owens liked to flash to the hoop and did it with such quickness and good body control that she was able to draw the block rather than charge. Dunning is a widebody but is surprisingly mobile and quick to the basket. She head-faked her way past a couple of defenders on one possession. On another, Dunning would put up a little floater or attack the basket with an authority not often seen in such a young player.

The score was tied at 16 all after 7:30 when Phillips returned to the game. Family guard Ashley Barlow, a terrific player with great speed and an explosive offensive game, started to push the tempo and taking over offensively. She scored on a drive to the basket, a three pointer and a jumper. Phillips, meanwhile, was bothered by Dunning's physical defense on her and wasn't a factor offensively.

Barlow continued her scoring streak and the score was 33-23 in favor of The Family when Lavender returned to the game. The Family wisely packed in the paint, denying Lavender the ball or, after the All Ohio guard managed to force the ball inside, stripping it from her hands. It appeared that no one on the All Ohio team wanted to take a shot, so all The Family had to do was double- or, more usually, triple-team Lavender. The Family held a 37-25 advantage at the break.

The Family started out the second half the way they finished the first – with extremely tough interior defense and well-balanced scoring from all of the starters. Phillips was frustrated in the post but showed that she has a deft passing touch and her defense on the few All Ohio players besides Lavender who took a shot was impressive. She swatted several balls and altered even more shots.

With All Ohio down 53-36, the coach finally put Dunning in to play alongside Lavender. Both players can pass the ball well and their size made them difficult to defend. While Dunning worked the inside, Lavender, who definitely had her game face on, stepped beyond the perimeter to hit a long distance shot. Her second shot from beyond the arc missed but her attempts forced The Family to spread the defense and relieve the congestion in the paint.

At this point, the All Ohio offense was being run through Jantel Lavender. She zipped a pretty pass into Dunning for an easy bucket, cutting the lead to 11 with 4:43 remaining and the score at 55-44. Lavender made a big time turn towards the basket and put a shot up over Phillips, who fouled her. After making the free throw, the lead was down to 10.

The All Ohio defense stiffened and Xavier-bound Alesia Barringer stole the ball from The Family. After her layup the lead was 8 with 3:35 left in the game. Unfortunately for All Ohio, The Family just had one too many shooters, specifically, Beth Marshall. She added two more three pointers to her already impressive earlier shooting to put the game out of reach. The Family finally prevailed, 65-50.

In the game for the third place spot, Boo Williams took on the New York Liberty Belles. While I didn't have a chance to see the second half, the first half was a rather lopsided in favor of Boo Williams. They had the quickness to keep up with the Liberty Belles and were better shooters. Boo Williams point guard Sheila White ran circles around the rocket-fast Sky Lindsay and Lorin Dixon, who scrambled to keep up with her. White is only a rising sophomore is certainly a high quality guard.

UConn recruit Tina Charles used her variety of post moves to score in pretty much whichever way she chose. Boo Williams' Lynnetta Kizer, 6-3, and Kaily McLaren, 6-2, tried to stop Charles but merely forced her to change her offensive focus and shoot from a few more feet away from the basket. Charles is truly an amazing player.

Impressive players from Day 3:

Andrea "Shaq" Walker, 6-5 F, Pittsburgh Rockers, 2006
Big and strong, Walker looks laconic as she floats through the paint. Just when you think she's disinterested in the game, she'll take a pass and go right at her defender or cut through them to the basket. Walker is very strong and surprisingly mobile for such a big player. She has scholarship offers from over 20 schools but is concentrating on Notre Dame, Ohio State and Xavier.

Amy Johns, 5-8 G, Pittsburgh Rockers, 2006
A guard with quick hands and a quicker first step, Johns stole so many balls it was easy to lose count. She showed a very nice passing touch, hitting teammates on the fast break with pinpoint shots. A quick player who can draw and dish or take it right to the hoop, Johns left us guessing about a perimeter game. Johns has given an oral commitment to Xavier, chosing the Musketeers over Rutgers, Michigan State, Temple and Vanderbilt.

Ayanna Dunning, 6-2 C, All Ohio Black, 2008

Jantel Lavender recruiting update -
The schools she listed are, in alphabetical order, Georgia, LSU, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Purdue, UConn, others.


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