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26th ANNUAL NIKE TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS – Whitney girls basketball splits first two games of prestigious out of state tournament

The Whitney High girls basketball team poses after defeating Mesa (AZ) High 51-30 this past Tuesday morning in the second of four games in the NIKE Tournament of Champions. PHOTO BY LOREN KOPFF

December 20, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

MESA, AZ-The first appearance in the 26th Annual NIKE Tournament of Champions for the Whitney High girls basketball program didn’t go the way head coach Myron Jacobs would have wanted. The Wildcats flew out of Long Beach this past Monday morning, arrived in Phoenix around 9:15 and had roughly five hours to get their rental vehicles, check in at the tournament hotel and head over to the Legacy Sports Complex, located in the far eastern suburb of Mesa.

When its game against Las Vegas-based Faith Lutheran High began an hour later, Whitney quickly trailed 10-4 before going on a 9-4 run to end the quarter. But inconsistent play on both sides of the ball and foul trouble to senior star player Kylie Wang was too much to overcome as the Wildcats lost to the Crusaders 51-47. Whitney was held scoreless the final 1:25 of the contest after junior Haylie Wang had tied the game. In fact, Whitney took one shot over that span, which didn’t come until less than five seconds remained on the clock.

“There’s no excuses,” said Jacobs. “We had our [butt] handed to us because we didn’t want to listen. That’s what it all comes down to; not listening and not rebounding and terrible passing. There’s no excuse. We landed at nine; we didn’t land at two. At the end of the day, we lost, fair and square.”

After the early six-point deficit to begin the game, Whitney stormed back to take a one-point lead. The Wang sisters combined for all seven points in that stretch, including a steal and subsequent basket from Haylie Wang and her receiving a pass from Kylie Wang to make it 11-10 with 2:21 left in the stanza.

Faith Lutheran would respond with an 8-2 run before the Wildcats regained the lead with eight straight points, highlighted by a three-pointer from freshman Alyssa So with 5:09 left in the half. That would be Whitney’s largest lead of the contest and the only three-pointer the team would get. The Wildcats were one of six from beyond the arc. The Crusaders would end the half on a 13-6 run and would not relinquish the lead until Haylie Wang tied the game late.

“We just lost,” said Jacobs. “They wanted it more than us. We went out there trying to look for fouls and look to play superstar basketball and not look to play team basketball. If something is working, why go away from it? A three doesn’t solve anything. A mid-range doesn’t solve anything. We lost, fair and square.”

Despite the game staying close throughout the first half, Kylie Wang was saddled with three fouls in the first seven minutes of the game. She picked up her fourth early in the fourth quarter but would not foul out and ended the game with a season-low eight points on three of 15 shooting from the field but had six rebounds and two steals.

“She was trying to do too much,” said Jacobs. “She was trying to do entirely too much. Instead of relying on everyone around her, she was trying to do too much, and that’s what you’re not supposed to do as a senior.”

Whitney outscored Faith Lutheran 11-8 in the third quarter, including a 9-2 run over the final 4:50. But the fourth quarter would see the teams trade point for point, or basket for basket as the ‘Cats got it down to a point four times, but could never grab what would have been their fourth lead of the game.

Haylie Wang led everyone with 22 points and had seven rebounds with three steals while sophomore Mady Macaraeg added 10 points and nine rebounds. So finished with seven points and five rebounds as no one else got into the scoring column.

“It comes down to rebounding,” said Jacobs. “You can’t let a team get three consecutive rebounds back to back to back to score and then, there’s 1:45 [left in the game] and we’re not sprinting back on defense putting it on the fence. That’s the personal issues we have to fix.”

This past Tuesday morning, Whitney faced hometown Mesa and blasted the Jackrabbits 51-30. Whitney, which improved to 10-3, scored the first 12 points in the first 4:56, then went on runs of 7-0, 6-0 and 10-0 in the first half as it led 42-13 at the break.

“I think the message was clear,” said Jacobs. “Either take care of business or let’s get back in the gym and let’s do a lot of running.”

Jacobs was able to play his entire team of 11, but standing out was So, who scored a game-high 17 points, all coming in the first half. She was four of eight from the field in the opening quarter, all coming from three-point territory and ended the game five of 13 from downtown. Kylie Wang scored 10 points, had nine rebounds, five assists and four steals while junior Kiera Kato came off the bench to post a career-high 10 points with two steals. Haylie Wang pitched in with seven points and eight boards.

“This game was okay,” said Jacobs. “I thought our girls on the bench did good; they got a chance to get in and see what they’ll look like in the next couple of years. I thought my freshman did really well, Alyssa So. Yesterday she was a little bit nervous; today she was more comfortable.”

Whitney faced Chatfield Senior High out of Littleton, CO this past Wednesday with the winner to face either (Gillette, WY) Campbell County High or Denver East High in the final game on Dec. 21. The NIKE Tournament of Champions hosted 112 teams in seven divisions with 31 teams coming from California, 24 from Arizona and 12 from Colorado. There is at least one team from 17 other states and even Australia, Canada and New Zealand were represented. Teams from the CIF-Southern Section went 9-13 in first round games.

Whitney was situated in the Derril Kipp Division and with wins in the final two days will win the consolation championship of the division. Other teams in the same division from the CIF-SS are Crean Lutheran High, whom Whitney defeated on Nov. 30, and Valley View High. Once Whitney returns home, it will next be in action on Jan. 3 at Pioneer High for the 605 League opener.

“That’s been the story for us the last couple of years; these consolation championships,” said Jacobs. “When you look at our team, we have a complete team. We actually can play. A lot of people don’t see that. We have freshmen who can come in and give you…that’s Alyssa’s third or fourth 17 (plus point) game and we’re already 13 games in. The kid can play. If she doesn’t have 17 points, she’ll have at least 12 or 13. We’re just not playing to our potential sometimes.”