Incarnate Word wins state basketball title with ease
Incarnate Word Academy breezed to its third consecutive state title March 21, taking the Class 4 girls championship game 60-27 over Mary Institute-Country Day School.
The Incarnate Word Red Knights, and Napheesa Collier in particular, seemed to have one thing on their mind — driving to the basket. It worked, with MICDS backpedaling most of the game. Collier scored 30 points and grabbed 19 rebounds. Ivana Easley added 10 points.
"This is the best game we played all season," Collier said. "The ball was just finding me. Literally just falling into my lap some of the time."
Incarnate Word Coach Dan Rolfes said three-point shots early by Easley set the momentum, stretching the defense, putting Collier in one-on-one situations and opening up lanes to the basket. He also cited the team's game plan, preventing MICDS from going on runs after creating turnovers and getting fast-break points.
"They proved it tonight. There's no doubt they're the best team in Class 4," Rolfes said of how pleased he is with his team, improving all season after a couple losses in a tournament in Arkansas to end the year 29-2.
Incarnate Word made 63 percent of its shots, scoring 12 points off turnovers, 17 on second chances and 6 on fast breaks. MICDS shot 15 percent and had no second-chance points.
Early in the game, Incarnate Word pulled ahead 7-3 on a three-point shot by Easley and two free throws from Collier. The team also showed good defense in the early going. They never looked back.
The Red Knights led 16-6 at the end of the first quarter, and by early in the second quarter, Collier had 14 points. Some came from driving to the basket, while others came off rebounds under the basket. MICDS kept trying three-pointers and missing. Desperate times call for a quick strike, but it wasn't working.
At halftime, Incarnate Word, a Catholic high school located in north St. Louis County, was ahead by 35-11. Collier had 19 points and 12 rebounds. Easley had nine points, all on three-pointers.
Junior guard Katie Lacefield, when asked about a 3-0 deficit to start the game, said "we always have to be relaxed and take a deep breath. ... we're going to get shots to get falling."
MICDS opened the second half with a nice pass play to score, then Collier stood strong to defend a shot. She had three baskets within the first couple minutes of the half, two under the basket and another on a layup. Though others joined in the scoring fun, Collier had 30 points just after the third quarter began.
Collier said that it was important that Incarnate Word kept going strong in the second half, citing an instance where a team lost a big lead.
Rolfes noted that his team will miss Collier, who will graduate and play next year at the University of Connecticut. But she's ready to move on, he said. And she's been humble, working hard in practice, never thinking she's better than anyone else. She's a special player and role model, he added.
It was Incarnate Word's third state title in a row, its fourth in five seasons and seventh overall.
Incarnate Word defeated Bolivar 78-56 March 19 to advance to the finals. Hoff had 29 points and Collier had 28 and 14 rebounds.
In the girls Class 5 division, Cor Jesu Academy lost to Rock Bridge of Columbia 52-41 in the semifinals March 20. Cor Jesu trailed at the half 17-13. Kristina Schmelter led Cor Jesu with 14 points and Natalie Chrisco had 11.
A matchup of Chaminade College Preparatory and St. Louis University High School in the Class 5 title game never materialized, with both teams losing in the semifinals.
SLUH lost 61-52 to Blue Springs South March 20. Blue Springs held a slim 29-25 lead at half before pulling away in the third quarter. Brandon McKissic led SLUH with 14 points, and Hunter Schmidt had 12.
Chaminade lost to Park Hill South 53-50 March 20. Chaminade was ahead 30-19 at halftime before being outscored in the second half. Park Hill South went ahead with 3:36 left, and Chaminade retook the lead 46-45 on free throws by Jayson Tatum with 1:46 left. But a three-point shot on the next possession returned Park Hill South to the lead for good. Tatum had 17 points and Tyler Cook had 15 for Chaminade.
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