Christ the King players run to join celebrating teammates at midcourt
CHANDLER, Ariz., Dec. 23 - Talking about improbable finishes, Lorin Dixon wasn't even supposed to be there. At the end, that is, with the ball in her hands and the game and a possible national championship on her shoulders. She is, after all, only a sophomore, only 5-feet-4 and only playing in a much-ballyhood matchup of dual-Goliath frontcourts.
So when Dixon heard "Go, go, go," from the Christ the King bench, she went, went, went - right to the basket with the score tied and the clock ticking dangerously under 10 seconds to play. If either 6-4 Courtney Paris or her 6-3 sister, Ashley, stepped up to help, Dixon knew she had a wing or one of her two supersized forwards to whom she could dish. But, absent a Paris impediment, Dixon kept going and dropped in the game-winning layup with 3.3 seconds left in Christ the King's 44-42 victory over No. 1 ranked Piedmont in the white division title game of the Nike Tournament of Champions.
The victory in the elite national tournament for high-school girls makes Christ the King the likely No. 1 in the next national poll.
Lorin Dixon was a blur all week
"It's amazing to me that I could have an impact on this tournament," Dixon said afterward. "Amazing" is exactly the word to use where Dixon is concerned; she corralled 10 rebounds the night before, as her Middle Village, N.Y., team cruised past Oakland Tech in the semifinals.
Dixon's critical improvisation came courtesy of some precient planning on the part of Christ the King Coach Bob Mackey. On the day before the tournament started, he installed the very spread offense his team used to produce the game-winner. New York, see, is one of only five states in the country that uses a shot clock for girls basketball and Christ the King otherwise had no need to sit on the ball.
"We put the stall in, just in case we needed it," Mackey explained. "Guess what? We needed it."
The Royals never ran the play until that very last possession of the tournament.
It was only the last time that Mackey pulled one over on the less seasoned Piedmont coach, Bryan Gardere, but not the first. To get the ball, Mackey trotted out a timeout with a 2-3 zone that obviously flustered Piedmont. When the Highlanders called another timeout, Mackey switched back into person-to-person.
Throughout the game, Mackey got crucial defensive help from his lightning-quick guards, who attacked the Paris twins from the weakside whenever they got the ball on the blocks. He also used 6-4 junior Tina Charles and 6-2 senior Carrem Gay to front the Parises and require pin-point entry passes. Piedmont did get the ball inside on high-low feeds - usually Ashley-to-Courtney lobs - and Courtney Paris did have a game-high 20 points. However, the Christ the King defense provoked a lot of point-blank misses and the the Royals were hurt only when they failed to board to back up the tactic.
The strategem also took some time to kick in. With Courtney Paris collecting 11 of her points before the break, Piedmont controlled most of the first half, leading by as many as eight. That lead was collected on a Paris three-pointer, which appeared to kick Dixon into gear for Christ the King. She converted a three-point play off penetration, then followed with a pullup jumper. That set up Nakejia Kelly's three-pointer with 10.1 seconds remaining that gave Christ the King a 25-24 halftime edge, its first of the game.
Courtney Paris had company
The game stayed tight until Courtney Paris's layup, off a high-post feed from Ashley, put Piedmont up by four, 41-37, with 4:40 left. But Kelly downed another three for Christ the King, followed by a layup by Gay that put Christ the King ahead 42-41. Kelly and Gay led Christ the King with 12 points apiece. Courtney Paris hit the front end of a one-and-one to tie the game, but missed the second shot, giving Christ the King the ball and 38.5 seconds to burn.
Christ the King was prepared and used the spanking new spread set to melt down the clock. Dixon knew the drill because, the night before, Long Beach Poly had revealed Piedmont to be vulnerable to penetration. However, unable to see the clock, Dixon almost waited too long and needed some late guidance.
"I heard, 'go, go, go,' so I went," she said. "It was probably the biggest shot of my career."
So far. The rocket-powered sophomore showed enough this week to suggest there is much more to come.
More TOC Coverage:
Last Impressions: Photos from the final day of competition.
Third Impressions: Photos from the third day of competition.
Twins vs. Twin Towers: Despite a close call for No. 1 Piedmont, the Nike Tournament of Champions has a dream final, which includes four of the best inside players in the country.
Second Impressions: Photos from the second day of competition.
OH! Canada!: Our second day at the Nike Tournament of Champions finds Canadian-style basketball, a super-duper sophomore and the daughter of an NBA great.
First Impressions: Photos from the first day of competition.
First Take: Jacki Gemelos of Stockton, Calif., revealed herself as a serious national player of the year candidate.