Wood pulls off playoff upset over depleted NU
Will C. Wood upset the top-seeded Nevada Union’s girls basketball team Saturday in the second round of the playoffs.
Those are the basic facts.
The deeper truth of what transpired Saturday also must include the fact that when NU’s Nicole Sheets’ three-point attempt at the buzzer hit just short, and Wood won the Division I Sac-Joaquin playoff game 40-38, the Miners bench on the other side of the court could have passed for a waiting room at a doctor’s office.
So many players were scratched from Saturday’s game, it was almost a surprise that none of them had poison ivy.
With a half-dozen girls either unable to play or only used sparringly, the Lady Miners battled the Lady Wildcats to the wire, only to see the wire break like so many hearts on the NU side of the gym at the neutral site of Galt High School.
“I thought the kids did a great job of executing the gameplan we put together,” NU coach Craig Strohm said. “It kept us in the game. The whole season for us wound down to being a war of attrition.”
Like its first-round playoff game against Woodland, NU (25-5 overall) built a double-digit lead Saturday, only to see it evaporate to near nothing in less than a quarter’s play.
By halftime, the 13-point Lady Miners’ advantage had been whittled to two. The lead changed hands seven times in the deciding quarter, including four times in a 65-second span.
NU’s Mackenzie Murphy, who scored eight points, darted past two defenders along the baseline for a bank shot with 2:50 left in the game to give the Lady Miners a 35-34 lead.
A Sheets free throw following a Wood basket off a rebound tied the game at 36 with 2:09 left. Wood regained a two-point lead off free throws by Medaya Crowder and Latoya Blunt. Crowder, who finished with 14 points, dribbled through NU’s press for a layup with 46 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 40-36.
Sheets, who along with Wood’s Blunt finished with a game-high 16 points, quickly answered off a dribble drive to cut the lead to two with 38 seconds left.
NU fouled Ashley Ramirez with 13 seconds left. Wood’s guard missed both free throws. NU’s Robin McFadden, who had four steals Saturday, grabbed the rebound. McFadden got the ball to Sheets, who dribbled past midcourt and fed Molly Heck at the top of the key.
Heck missed a long trey, but teammate Courtney Kephart grabbed the rebound and was tied up, setting up an in-bound play with less than two seconds left. Wood (18-7 overall) called timeout to set up its defense for NU’s final shot of the game.
“We considered ourselves fortunate because we didn’t have a timeout,” Strohm said. “It enabled us to draw up a play. … Nicole got a good look and made a great shot.”
Sheets, who was called upon to shore up the point guard position, came around a Murphy screen to take Kephart’s pass in three-point territory. Sheets head-faked a charging defender and got off a three-pointer just before the buzzer. It hit the near side of the rim and bounced away.
Shortly before each game this season, the Lady Miners have huddled on the floor of gyms for final words of encouragement. The season ended Saturday with a quartet of girls huddled on the floor in much the same fashion, this time offering kind words to Sheets, who made the first shot of the game with a three-pointer.
“Our team does everything together; we are beyond close,” Murphy said. “Robin McFadden told us after the game that we don’t need to cry because it is over, that we should smile because it all happened.”
After 25 wins and a share of a Metro League title, most of the girls did a little of both.
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