Los Angeles Preps: Keani Albanez

Inland Empire and LA North: Rialto 44, Buena 42

March, 19, 2011

LOS ANGELES -- Stunning. Unbelievable. For the second time in two weeks, Janae Sharp grabbed a dagger from midair and thrust it into the heart of Buena High School.

With a scant 2.8 seconds left in a tie score — Buena getting the ball because of a controversial offensive foul — a long pass downcourt bounced once. Sharpe grabbed it on the run, took one step and let fly at the free-throw line. Fractions of a second later, the buzzer sounded on history.

Top-seeded Rialto scored a 44-42 victory over second-seeded Buena to win the Southern California Regional championship on Saturday at Galen Center. The Knights (33-3) are headed to the state finals for the first time where they will play Stockton St. Mary’s, a 56-48 winner over Loomis Del Oro.

The Cal State Northridge-bound Sharpe scored eight points. Brittany Walker scored 12 and Summer Webb 10.

Two weeks ago, Sharpe was the hero when she drove through traffic and her shot danced on the rim before falling true as the buzzer sounded in a 55-53 victory over Buena (26-8).

No one questioned the beauty, credibility or enormity of Sharpe’s game-winner in Round 2, but that Rialto even had the ball was open for debate.

“I’ve always preached about being positive, in conducting yourself in a manner to be proud of, but I don’t think my mom would have any problem with me saying that was probably the worst call in high school sports,” said Buena coach David Guenther.

Rialto had taken a 40-35 lead when Brittani Walker scored inside after a nifty pass from Webb, but then went almost four minutes without a point. After Keani Albanez made three of four free throws in the last minute that gave Buena a 42-40 advantage with 21 seconds remaining. Sharpe scored on a drive with 15 seconds remaining.

The score tied at 42-42, Albanez — who led all scorers with 19 points — drove the length of the court. When she collided with Denae Williams, Albanez was whistled for the offensive foul, her fifth.

“I thought it was a great call,” Rialto coach Michael Anderson said.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Albanez said.

Only 2.8 seconds remained.

Needing a near miracle, Walker threw a football pass as Sharpe broke down the court. The deep defender hesitated.

Sharpe didn’t. And then the shot fell.

Inland Empire: SoCal Regional Finalist, Rialto

March, 16, 2011
ESPNLA is taking a closer look this week at the Inland Empire basketball teams that qualified for the Southern California Regional championship games Saturday at USC's Galen Center. Today, the spotlight is on the Rialto girls' basketball team, which plays Ventura Buena in the Division 2 final at 2 p.m.

RIALTO (32-3).

League: San Andreas.

Resume: The Knights won their first 12 games by an average margin of 48 points. They finally ran into some trouble during the Chino Hills Ayala Best of the West tournament in late December, losing back-to-back games against La Puente Bishop Amat and Fontana Summit. Rialto made headlines in late January when it defeated San Bernardino Cajon, 43-41, to end its 85-game league winning streak. The Knights cruised through their first two Southern Section Division 2AA playoff games before the competition stiffened. The top-seeded Knights beat Norco by six points in the quarterfinals, then edged Inglewood by three before defeating Buena on last-second shot in the championship game. Rialto posted another two-point win in its opening game of the regional playoffs against Canyon Country Canyon, then beat North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake, 76-60, to set up a rematch with Buena.

Roster: Rialto features one of the premier playmakers in the Inland Empire in senior guard Janae’ Sharpe. It was Sharpe who scored the game-winner against Buena the first time around. Sharpe, who has signed with Cal State Northridge, is averaging close to 26 points a game. If Sharpe isn’t on, the Knights can usually depend on junior center Denae Williams, who had 25 points and 19 rebounds in the semifinal win against Harvard-Westlake. Rialto point guard Summer Webb is also a key figure. She scored 18 points in the section final against Buena, including three 3-pointers in the final quarter.

Reality: Buena didn’t take its loss to Rialto very well, so you can bet the Bulldogs have been eagerly awaiting the rematch. Gonzaga-bound guard Keani Albanez scored 27 points in a semifinal victory against Westview and 29 in Buena’s opening victory against Palisades. If she can get the better of the match up against Sharpe, the Bulldogs have a good chance of winning. Otherwise, expect the Knights to be a couple points better.

Result: Rialto 65, Buena 62.

Inland Empire and LA North: Div. 2AA, Rialto 55, Buena 53

March, 4, 2011

ANAHEIM — Janae’ Sharpe acted as if she'd been there before. In reality, nobody in the history of the Rialto girls' basketball program history had reached that point.

With the score tied and 17 seconds remaining in the Southern Section Division 2AA championship game, Sharpe took the inbounds pass, calmly let about nine seconds tick off the clock before crossing halfcourt, paused again at the three-point line with about three seconds remaining and then drove into the lane, letting go of a five-foot pull-up jumper that rolled in at the buzzer, giving Rialto a 55-53 victory against Ventura Buena at the Anaheim Convention Center.

It was a sensational end to the Knights’ first-ever section final appearance.

“I just had to get to the rim,” Sharpe said.

The end was fitting considering how the final quarter played out.

Neither team led by more than three points in the last eight minutes, which featured five ties and seven lead changes.

Taylor McGuire sank back-to-back three-point baskets to give second-seeded Buena (24-7) a 49-46 lead with 2:05 remaining. Rialto guard Summer Webb answered with a three-pointer to tie the score with 1:20 remaining.

Sharpe then stole the ball in the backcourt and passed to Webb for a layup. After the Bulldogs tied the score on two free throws by Gonzaga-bound guard Keani Albanez with 55 seconds left, Sharpe stole another pass under the Rialto basket and laid it in for a 55-53 lead.

McGuire tied the score one final time on a driving layup with 17 seconds remaining, setting up Sharpe’s final shot.

Before the play, Rialto coach Michael Anderson had one final set of instructions for Sharpe.

"You cannot pass this basketball," Anderson told his star guard.

With Cynthia Mora guarding Sharpe from before halfcourt, the top-seeded Knights (30-3) faked a high screen and then cleared out for Sharpe to penetrate. The play worked to perfection.

“It’s a shame they had the ball last,” said Buena coach David Guenther.

Sharpe, who came in averaging 26 points, seven rebounds, 10 steals and 7.6 assists per game, finished with 23 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals. Webb scored 18 points, helping to offset an off-night for center Denae Williams, who had six points but pulled down 16 rebounds.

“We’ve been accomplishing a lot of things but this is the icing on the cake,” said Rialto senior Brittani Walker.

McGuire and Albanez were visibly upset after the game and didn’t have a lot to say to reporters, but that didn’t surprise Guenther.

“We have two competitors who don’t like losing,” he said.

McGuire finished with 21 points and seven rebounds. Albanez had 19 points and 13 rebounds.

Both teams advanced to the Southern California Regional playoffs beginning next week.