HOUSTON -- This year's Texas 5A Region 3 (Houston) Championship has been headlined not by the favorites or expected matchups but by All-American performances from two of the state's McDonald's All-Americans. Spectacular Friday night performances by Cinco Ranch's Briana Gilbreath (USC) and Cy-Fair's Nneka Ogwumike (Stanford) set the stage for Saturday's showdown for a berth in the state semifinals.
The two teams' strengths are nearly opposite. Cinco Ranch of Katy, Texas, has a guard tandem leading the way with Gilbreath and fellow senior Kelsey Clinch, while Cy-Fair of Cypress, Texas, sports perhaps the best frontcourt in the country with sisters Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike.
The two teams have played twice already this season, once in preseason play with Cinco Ranch winning the first meeting at Cy-Fair 54-46 and Cy-Fair the second at the Katy ISD tournament 60-37. Cy-Fair did not have the services of either Ogwumike in the first game because they were fulfilling their obligation to the school's volleyball team.
Most would expect Cy-Fair to win Saturday, but not many would have picked Cinco Ranch to make it this far. Cinco Ranch lost seven games this year yet is playing its best basketball of the season. Cy-Fair was taken to the wire by Dulles, escaping with a 66-60 victory.
Cy-Fair was led by Nneka Ogwumike who scored 26 points and put constant pressure on Dulles, both on the inside where she made 10 of 13 shots and on the outside where she knocked down one of her two 3-point attempts and made important post entry passes to her sister Chiney.
In the semifinals, Gilbreath played a near perfect game for a program that had never reached the regional semis let alone the championship. Gilbreath scored 26 points, grabbed nine rebounds, blocked four shots and snatched three steals in Cinco Ranch's 63-50 victory.
The final spread was not indicative of the back-and-forth battle. The brilliance in Gilbreath's performance was that she not only doubled her scoring average but did it when her team needed it most. After a 14-14 tie after one quarter, Marshall came out blazing, putting the heat on Cinco Ranch on both ends of the floor. With Marshall threatening to make a run and open the game up, Gilbreath stepped up with 12 of her 26 points in the quarter to give her team a two-point halftime lead. She capped that off with eight points in the fourth quarter in which Cinco Ranch outscored Marshall 19-9 to seal the victory.
Gilbreath was on fire from the 3-point arc and took advantage of her height and length on both ends of the floor and played a truly complete game. In the championship she will have to lead the way again and will likely be asked to take her turn guarding both Ogwumikes. Expect the same from Nneka Ogwumike, who will need to provide the interior dominance as well as individual defensive effort against Gilbreath.
Gilbreath is a smart enough player that a half-hearted effort to deny her the basketball will fail as Marshall found out. Marshall attempted to face-guard the 6-foot-1 senior guard with several players but none showed the vigor and relentlessness needed to keep a taller, more experienced player from catching the ball. Marshall also never sent a second defender at Gilbreath once she caught the ball. In the finale Saturday, expect that to change.
For Cinco Ranch, its defensive success came from of a 1-3-1 half-court zone. This defense has one guard picking the ball up at half court and forcing them to one side of the court with three defenders stretched across the next level and one post defender in the back near the baseline. It showed this both as a trap and as quarter-court defense.
Against Cy-Fair with both Ogwumike's being able to see and pass over the top of the defense it is unlikely the defense will extend out past the top of the key. The second level of defense will most likely stretch across the free-throw line to both wings with a player denying the high post and two wing defenders taking away the easy pass. Cy-Fair is not a great 3-point shooting team and Cinco Ranch will look to make them beat it beat them from deep rather than in the paint.
Cy-Fair is very successful at entering the ball into either Ogwumike from the high post and the smaller Cinco Ranch team cannot allow the ball to get to that spot. Dulles was successful in stretches and forced the pass to come from further away which meant the ball was in the air longer and gave the pesky defenders a chance to tip or intercept it. Cy-Fair countered by having Nneka Ogwumike enter the ball into the post from the top of the key. Cy-Fair will not have to deal with an imposing post force as it did against Dulles with Kelsey Bone, the No. 1 ranked junior in the country according to HoopGurlz.com. Bone scored 16 points in the game, but a stifling defense from Cy-Fair limited her touches near the basket and if she did catch it close she had at least two defenders on her.
Most teams are lucky to have one player of either of the Ogwumike's ability yet Cinco Ranch will have to defend both Nneka and Chiney without a player of their size and athleticism. In addition they will need to keep senior guards Mansa El and Nichole Morris from collapsing their zone with dribble penetration.
The cards are all on the table and Saturday the two teams will play there hand and one team will have the chance to play for the Texas 5A state championship in March.
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