By ROBERT BETTEMANN
The St. John’s College High School girls basketball team secured the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) tournament with a convincing 55-49 victory over Bishop McNamara on Feb. 19.
Bishop McNamara will enter the tournament, which begins Feb. 22, as the No. 3 seed.
The game began with back-and-forth scoring, but St. John’s seemed to be at a disadvantage due to sharp defense from Bishop McNamara. The Lady Mustangs had four steals in the first quarter and heavy ball pressure turned into a steal and finish by Aniya Bell to tie the game at eight-all. The Cadets’ Carly Rivera was pick-pocketed by McNamara, which turned it into a finish at the rim, and ended the first quarter scoring at 17-12 in favor of McNamara.
“I started a little off,” said St. John’s point guard Caramina Tanedo. “But I just tried to stay focused on the next play and what I needed to do to help my team win.”
After faltering in the first, St. John’s turned it on in the second with more assertive point guard play from Tanedo, and athletic execution by junior forward Malu Tshitenge-Mutombo and freshman guard Azzi Fudd.
Thsitenge-Mutombo had four points in the quarter and 17 in the game, while Fudd scored seven in the second and led all scorers with 23.
“As a team I think we did a great job moving the ball, and our defense picked up as the game went on,” Fudd said.
Tshitenge-Mutombo, the niece of NBA great Mikembe Motumbo, is a dominating offensive and defensive presence, while Fudd, the daughter of players-turned-coaches Tim and Katie Fudd, showed range as a shooter and balance finishing toward the rim.
With four minutes to go in the quarter, Tshitenge-Mutombo muscled into favorable position in the post to knot the game at 20. On the next possession, the Mustangs’ Jakia Brown-Hunter (who finished with 10 points – all in the first half) got the rebound and finished to put McNamara up two. Fudd then hit a three pointer to make it 23-22, and the Cadets never trailed in the game again.
A three from the Cadets’ Alexandra Cowan made it 26-22 with 2:15 to go in the half. Fudd followed with a strong curl into the lane, nailing a jumper from the top of the key to make it 28-22. The Cadets stopped turning the ball over and were then able to outscore the Mustangs 16-7 in the second period.
The Mustangs kept it close throughout with competitive play from 5-foot-11 sophomore Liatu King (12 points) and junior Aliya Mathrau (12 points), but in the end the Mustangs were simply unable to get enough stops, or score enough points, to turn the tide in their favor.
It did not help that Fudd hit 6-of-6 free throws in the fourth quarter.
“We did a good job playing as a team, and that’s how we pulled together at the end,” she said.
St. John’s head coach Jonathan Scribner, who was recently named a WCAC Coach of the Year, has his team focusing toward last year’s tournament final, which they won.
“It was a good win over a quality opponent and we’re looking forward to seeing what we can do heading into the playoffs,” he said.
Last year’s St. John’s College High School girls basketball team was ranked No. 1 by the Washington Post, and No. 2 nationally by USA Today. This year’s team is not quite so dominant, but is still 22-2 overall and 16-1 in league with the lone league loss coming to Paul VI in early February. With Paul VI the No. 2 seed in the tournament, the teams could be set for a championship rematch.
“We’re definitely looking forward to the championship game, and possibly facing McNamara or PVI,” Tanedo said. “But we don’t take either of our first two games for granted. We’ve got to come out and play our game. We’re not as deep as we were last year. We play more of a six-man rotation, as opposed to an eight or nine. So it’s important our main players not get in foul trouble.”