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Good Counsel's surge blows out Woodson
(Published March 20, 2006)

By MICHAEL HOFFMAN
Special to The Common Denominator

Intense, intelligent and powerful. These adjectives fit Good Counsel center Kaili McLaren to a T, and after scoring 20 points and pulling down 17 rebounds during her team’s 62-34 victory in the girls’ varsity basketball City Title Game against Woodson, two more words could be added to her resume: champion and MVP.

They are worthy titles for a woman who stays late at the gym and will not leave until she makes a certain number of shots.

"You gotta put in that extra work to become a championship team, and I knew that coming in," said McLaren after the March 14 game.

That extra work paid off as McLaren, the biggest player on the court, baffled her smaller opponents, playing multiple positions -- including point guard -- and turning heads with her uncanny ability. Whether it was fade away finesse or a power move in-the-paint, McLaren simply did it all, and for all who watched at George Washington University’s Smith Center, it was apparent from the start.

McLaren would use a duplex of moves and hit both shots down-low and one outside the three-point line in scoring nine of her team’s 12 points in the first quarter.

Despite McLaren’s play, the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association champion Lady Warriors from Woodson managed to keep the game close in the first quarter, trailing only 12-9 despite a poor early shooting effort from regular season leading scorer Tia Bell, who simply could not find her range.

While Woodson could not find its scoring touch early on, it held the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champion Lady Falcons in check in for much of the opening stanza – in part due to a two up, top three down low zone defense that seemed to confuse Good Counsel for much of the game’s opening stanza.

The opening of the second quarter would see Woodson begin to develop some flow on offense as well. Bell would regain some of her shooting touch, beginning the quarter by making a shot on the left side. This was followed by a Bernisha Pinkett steal on McLaren, who dribbled the ball just a little too long and didn’t notice Pinkett’s attempt to clutch the ball from her side. Pinkett scooped up the ball and passed forward to Ciara Banks, who hit a weaving layup in the lane to cut the Lady Falcons’ lead to 14-13 early in the second quarter.

On the other side of the ball, Woodson’s defense continued to improve throughout the second quarter. An impressive play by Bell, who ran back from her position near the free-throw line, out of nowhere blocked a layup attempt by Good Counsel guard Sarian Snyder. Later in the quarter, with the score 14-13, Woodson center Avery Warley intercepted an ill-advised inbound pass that attempted to float over her head. Warley grabbed the ball and attempted to give the Lady Warriors their first lead since it had opened the game with a 2-0 advantage. Warley maneuvered up court, but Good Counsel senior guard Cali Jackson held her ground against Warley. As Warley could not establish positioning, she air-balled her layup attempt.

From that point forward, Good Counsel’s Lady Falcons would establish firm control.With the score 20-17 late in the second quarter, Woodson guard Patrice Johnson grabbed a rebound on a Good Counsel miss, but before she could even begin her dribble, the ball was thumped out of her hand by McLaren. McLaren then passed to Katie Sheahin, who was still under the basket after her previous missed shot. This time she sank the shot, far ahead of Woodson’s defense.

The first half ended with Good Counsel leading 27-18. Although this represented a fairly decent first-half effort, the Lady Falcons "upped the ante" and played with unabashed intensity during the game’s second half.

"We had six seniors on the team, and everyone knew it was only 16 minutes left in their high school basketball career, so we just went out and played hard in the second half and showed them what Good Counsel was really about," McLaren said proudly.

Indeed, for the six seniors on Good Counsel’s team, the final 16 minutes will be a time to remember.After Woodson tightened the lead to 29-22 with 6:30 left in the third quarter, Good Counsel went on a 15-2 scoring rampage to end the quarter leading 44-24 -- essentially ending the game, enroute to an eventual 62-34 victory.

Throughout the run, Woodson’s squad looked confused about whom they were assigned to guard. The tide of points began as Good Counsel guard Jackson dribbled from right to left inside the key, bringing the defense toward her and spotting an unguarded Claire Wheeler down low on the right for the easy layup.

While the Lady Falcons were developing a rhythm on offense, the Woodson offense was looking increasingly anemic.

After a Pinkett steal, Stephanie Giles got the ball in transition and air-balled a shot near the free-throw line. It would not be the only offensive mistake in the third quarter for Woodson, as the Lady Warriors’ Bell would watch her pass sail out of bounds on one play and then fail to levitate her layup over the opponent guarding her.

On the other side, Good Counsel simply did not miss and, in the quarter’s final minute, would spread the ball quickly from left to right. Jackson spotted Brianna McFadden unguarded outside of the left three-point line, where McFadden received the pass and swished the three-pointer, increasing the Lady Falcons’ lead to 42-22.

Things would get even worse for the Lady Warriors, as Woodson’s body language was showing the strain of defeatism. On Good Counsel’s final possession of the third quarter, Wheeler outran Woodson’s entire defense and received a long pass down-court for an easy layup to extend the lead to 44-24.

With still one more quarter to play, the mood at Smith Center was anticlimactic as the third quarter had sealed the outcome. It was at this point that McLaren, as she told reporters afterward, had "as much fun as possible." McLaren at one point highlighted her cross-over dribble, and although it was outside of her natural position, displayed a polished passing touch while playing point guard, feeding numerous teammates down low.

Even a one-handed overhead pass out of bounds by McLaren elicited nothing but a smile on her face, as she knew her team was well on its way to winning its second straight city title.

"It was a great team effort. The team went out, got rebounds and finished plays," McLaren said.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator