Tuesday, August 5, 2014
By Scott Rodgers
In a back-and-forth game, the difference was the big shots made by Cal Storm Team Taurasi’s Andee Velasco that allowed her team to take a championship home to California.
The Loyola Maramount commit made five 3-pointers on 15 attempts, including two back-to-back shots in the final minute to force overtime in her team’s 65-60 win over Tree of Hope in the Nike Nationals Gold Championship Game on July 30. Velasco finished the game at Riverview Park Activities Center with 19 points, tied for game-best with Tree of Hope’s Deja Strother, who’s committed to the University of Washington.
“I knew that we had to be patient, and we had to take our time,” Velasco said. “All we had to do was score a couple of baskets and pick them apart. When they swung it to me, I knew I was open; I just locked in on my target and let it go – I knew it was going in. I felt like the key to this was confidence and teamwork, and I knew my team was behind me. They gave me extra boost, I wouldn’t have been able to make those without their support.”
After jumping out to an early lead, Cal Storm trailed 27-24 at halftime after Tree of Hope finished on a 12-3 run in the final three minutes. Cal Storm opened the second half on a tear, claiming a 32-29 lead before Tree of Hope seemingly took hold of the game with a run of their own, to take a 44-34 lead. However, Cal Storm kept chipping away; and, according to head coach George Quintero, never gave in.
“With about 2:50 left in the game we had a timeout, and I made it very, very clear; we were hungrier, and we worked so hard,” he said. “I felt like the other team was just trying to survive. We were hungry, and they were surviving; and we went after it. I told them this was exactly where we wanted to be with 2:50 to go. I want to be in this position, I want us to be down, because it’s more fun to come back.”
Cal Storm responded with a run, highlighted by Leaonna Odom’s basket on a wide-open shot to cut the deficit to two. However, after stealing the inbound pass, Odom missed a layup that would have tied the game.
Tree of Hope’s Joyce Harrell responded with two free throws to extend the lead to 48-44. Then Velasco made the first of her barrage of 3-pointers. Tree of Hope’s Jayde Christopher made a running shot and picked up the free throw to give her team a 51-47 lead. Ellie Woerner followed that up with two more free throws to stake Tree of Hope to a 53-47 lead.
Cal Storm’s Katie Campbell, who went 4-for-4 from 3-point range in the game, cut that lead in half. Strother extended her team’s lead to five points, again, and Campbell got another 3-pointer to cut the deficit to two. Tree of Hope’s Juanita Agosto got the first part of an and-1, but did not get the free throw to make the score 57-53. After getting the ball back, Agosto drained her two free throws for a 59-53 lead.
That’s when Velasco drained another 3-pointer with 18 seconds to play. Cal Storm was forced to foul, and the move paid off when Faithaleen Lopez-Flores missed the front end of a 1-and-1 situation, allowing Velasco to shoot – and make – the game-tying 3-pointer with only four seconds remaining and sending the game into overtime.
“The one thing about her, when she first came to us, is that I felt she had the composure we needed for a young team,” Quintero said. “You need a great, composed point guard, and that’s what she is. The fact that she is a shooting point guard is very rare. I trust that she makes good decisions, she makes big shots, she’s got great range, so she’s pretty much an ideal point guard for our team.”
Quintero changed up his strategy for overtime.
“I put in a lot of players in that did not get a lot of minutes in this tournament,” he said. “Mostly because they are so young, but I felt like we needed a boost. They needed to be rewarded, too, for being here. Those kids that got the steals and played defense in overtime are role players all the way to the very end of the bench. They came in and said ‘I want to be a part of this,’ and I felt like if we were going to win this game they need to have ownership, too. It’s not just the starters. They came in and led us to the win.”
In overtime, Velasco attempted two 3-pointers in her team’s first two possessions, but was unable to connect on either. Cal Storm’s Brijanee Moore made a layup to give her team the lead, and Velasco made four free throws to ice the game. Tree of Hope was held to just one point in the overtime period.
“I think, as a team, we worked on being mentally tough,” Velasco said. “We have been through so much adversity, so many ups and downs, that I felt like that, together, we had to stay composed. We knew that we had to take our time and control the game, and not let them control us.”
Scott Rodgers is the news editor at the North Augusta Star and has been with the paper since 2013.