By Bonta Hill
Neff Division champion Lowell High School overcame a 10 minute scoring drought in the first half, and 26 percent shooting from the field to return to the Academic Athletic Association championship game Friday.
The Cardinals instead did it with their defense, forcing Wallenberg into 29 turnovers to defeat the Bulldogs 53-32 in Tuesday’s semifinal game at Kezar Pavilion.
“The plan was to go inside-out and we didn’t figure that out until the fourth quarter,” said Lowell head coach Aki Kuwada. ”This team has never shot 40 percent ever. So for us, it’s just another day at the office, but as long they play my kind of defense, the offense will take care of themselves.”
Sophomore forward Lorna Tuufuli, who sat out the final 11 minutes of the first half due to foul trouble, had a game-high 16 points for Lowell (25-4), including eight straight during one stretch in the third frame.
“When Lorna is in the game and we score those quick points, it relaxes the girls on the outside and that’s when they start stroking the ball better,” Kuwada said. “[But] she gets into foul trouble every game, so we can’t always depend on her.”
As Tuufuli brought Lowell out of their offensive slump in the third quarter, the pesky Bulldogs (14-11) stayed within striking distance.
But then Wallenberg’s senior leader, Andrea Mochida went down with an apparent knee injury with three minutes remaining in third quarter that halted play.
Wallenberg forward Naima Rahmaoui then hit two consecutive jumpers to bring Wallenberg within 32-25, but Lowell guard Angie Ng would spark a game-changing 10-2 run by hitting back-to-back three-pointers, the Cardinals first three-pointers of the night, and center Hana Murphy would close the third frame with a 12-foot jumper.
With seven minutes left, the Bulldogs found themselves down 42-25, and with only six available players after Mochida’s injury, they simply ran out of steam.
“Our girls ran out of gas and their pressure took a toll on us,” said Wallenberg head coach Kristina Lee. “I give credit to their defense, they were in our face and I think our girls were a little nervous. We turned the ball over [frequently], and those turnovers hurt us.”
Wallenberg, played tougher than what the final score indicated, but couldn’t take advantage of Lowell’s cold streak in the first half.
“Considering we had only seven players, we did an amazing job,” Lee said. “They have a whole lot of heart and to come this far, I’m very proud of them. Unfortunately we didn’t play as well as we wanted to, but overall we had a great season.”
For Lowell, Washington stands in the way of their quest to repeat as AAA champions and avenge their only league loss of the season back on Jan. 21.
“Washington is a much better shooting ball club than we are and it was a three-point game last time,” Lee said. “I expect it to be a close game again. I don’t think the game will be determined on who shoots better, but whoever plays the better defense.”
Lorna Tuufuli – 16
Angie Ng – 8
Jillian Doherty – 7
Tiffani Pak – 6
Hana Murphy – 4
Andrea Mochida – 9
Naima Rahmaoui – 8
Nefertiti Rogers – 6
Nerissa Soliven – 5
Jessica Terrell – 4