Kelsey Plum propels Country Day to title
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Kelsey Plum is ranked 31st in the ESPNU HoopGurlz Super 60 for the junior class. She is not the biggest, strongest or even the fastest guard of the group, but what the top-10 point guard prospect does have is ice pumping through her veins.
That poise was tested in Country Day's (La Jolla, Calif.) clash with No. 19 Academy of the Holy Cross (Kensington, Md.) in the John Anderson Division championship game of the Nike Tournament of Champions on Thursday. The player the Torreys count on to score from the off-guard position, run the point in pressure situations and be a leader on the floor was having a rare off day, or so it seemed.
"It was frustrating, but my teammates are great," Plum said. "Malina (Hood) stepped up huge and gave us a bunch of points. I tried to play smart, play within the flow, get my teammates involved, and it turned out good."
Strapped early with three fouls and a so-so shooting percentage -- at least by her standards -- Plum had to play the role of cheerleader, watching Hood, who finished with a game-high 21 points, carry the load in the first half. But true to form, Plum dominated the second half and used some of her cool to ice the game late, giving Country Day a 58-44 win and an inevitable spot for her team in the next POWERADE FAB 50 rankings.
"My coaches, they really believe in me, which helps, and I looked to my teammates," Plum said of not pressing when she returned to the floor.
Plum scored 12 second-half points, including six straight in the final 58 seconds to slam the door shut on an 11-6 run that Holy Cross mounted to cut the lead to six at the 2-minute mark and hovered at eight with 1:03 to play. She finished with 16 for the game.
That's the great thing about Plum's game; she's a winner and doesn't need to shoot 60 percent from the floor to have a good game. And after sitting for much of the first half, her maturity showed in that she didn't try to catch up with the 26-point performance she produced a day earlier in a semifinal win over Brea Olinda (Brea, Calif.). Heck, she plays out of position for most of the game anyway.
"I'm probably a point guard, but on this team I play more of a combo guard because we have other players that specifically play point guard and I need to play combo," Plum said. "I think at the next level I see myself as a point guard. A scoring point guard."
So with the Anderson Division as deep and talented as it has ever been, it was Country Day's week to show the rest of the country that this team can hang with the nation's elite and win games against teams that are bigger and more athletic.
"I think we had to really rely on our execution in the halfcourt set," Plum said. "I think we got rattled a little bit when they went on runs, but toward the end, I think we executed down the stretch and controlled the ball and tried to box out on the other end because they're really long and get a lot of offensive rebounds."
And the Torreys simply play well together, whether they have as many ranked prospects as their opponents or not. The play of junior guard Brianne Yasukochi, who stands all of 5-feet-3, and sophomore Tia Kanoa, at a comparatively towering 5-7, cannot be measured by their lines in the box scores. Their contributions, coupled with the play of Plum and twins Maya and Malina Hood, resulted in a championship performance.
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Chris Hansen is the national director of prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. He is a member of the McDonald's All-American team selection committee. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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