Brea pulled off the upset last night, beating longtime rival Cajon and avenging their December loss to the Cowgirls in the championship game of their own tournament. It was also Cajon’s first loss of the season.
In front of a packed Brea gym of about 1000 vocal fans, the Wildcats won in dramatic fashion, out-hustling and out-shooting Cajon in the last 10 minutes of the game. These teams were supposedly second- and third-ranked not only in California, but the nation. Add to that backdrop some outrageous theatrics by players and coaches alike, and the evening was pure entertainment.
Both teams were slow to start, missing their first few shot attempts. Then they traded threes and layups, and the score was knotted at 9 at the end of the first quarter. Cajon’s biggest lead was four points at the 9-5 mark, while Brea’s biggest lead was three points at 5-2.
First thing in the second quarter, Cajon’s Layshia Clarendon heated up and fired off a two, a three-shot and went around a pick and scored a layup. Brea kept pace with buckets by Jonae Ervin and Kelsey Harris.
There were a lot of jump balls in this quarter, with the ball going back and forth from team to team after the call. Monique and I counted eight jump balls. But for the most part, the refs let them play and didn’t call a lot of fouls.
Clarendon had 10 of her 25 points in the first half, and Darshae Burnside had five of her 15. For Brea, Justine Hartman had nine at the half and Harris, seven. Brea was up 22-20 at the break.
As the buzzer sounded, the Brea student section stood and began chanting, “o-ver-ray-ted!” at the Cowgirls. Monique and I were amused by this, because Brea was only ahead by two and hadn’t looked any better than their opponents. Two of the top teams in the nation should be able to score more than 22 by halftime, anyway.
Both teams begun the third quarter on fire. Burnside made a tough shot, and on the next possession, Wildcat freshman Jeanier Olukeme scored on a back door play. Burnside scored, then on Cajon’s next possession, Hartman decisively blocked Clarendon. Hartman blocked again on the next play, and Clarendon went into assist mode, making two in a row.
Cajon lead 28-26 at the 4:06 mark. But it was then that Brea went on a 10-2 run that culminated in four straight Kendall Rodriguez free throws and a bucket at the buzzer to put her team up 36-30 at the end of three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, Burnside made the first basket, but the Wildcats then went on a 10-0 run to put them up 42-32 at the first timeout, at 5:16 to go. There was a brief moment of hope for Cajon with under a minute to play, when they cut Brea’s lead to 52-45 after a Burnside two and a Clarendon three. But at 35 seconds left the Cowgirls had to foul, and Brea made all of their free throw shots.
In fact, Brea made most of their free throw shots in the game, period, which is good for them, and their outside shots were falling. Brea also seemed to want the victory more than their opponents.
For the Wildcats, Harris finished with 16, Rodriguez 15, and Hartman 13. Ervin, Olukeme and Clarendon had six assists each.
I know both these teams, from personal experience last year.
Clarendon seemed to be having an off-night, because she was slow-moving. She would often keep the ball until the shot clock had almost run out, then try to shoot it. She brought the ball up the court walking, even at times when she should have been pushing it. There seemed to be no urgency in her play whatsoever, until the last minute of the game when Cajon was closing the scoring gap.
Monique and I also disliked her tendency to be a ball hog. There were numerous times when she could have and should have given the rock to a teammate who was more open, but she chose to drive and attempt the layup. Clarendon had six assists, but she could have had 11 or 12 if she would have quit trying to be Superwoman. If she plays like she did last night, she will have a hard time at Cal next year.
Hartman, a sophomore who was named to the Nike TOC first team last month, was impressive last night. She only had three blocks, but each was a monster block. She hustles well for a big girl.
Besides the game, there was a heck of a lot taking place on the benches and the sidelines.
First, the setting: Brea Olinda High School is located at the top of a big hill in Brea, Orange County. There is a lot of money in the area and in the school, as is evidenced by the school’s spacious athletic facilities that cater to every sport, the fact that there are separate girls and boys athletics directors, and the cleanliness and flawlessness of the gym and gym floor.
The “Ladycats” coaches have a painted office with a green recliner, and the parents are organized, money-making machines with the snack bar and raffles. Students are polite and actually sit and watch the game, and oh, the number of people who turn out for those games.
I have to give it up to the Brea community, because the gym was packed last night. More people came to that game than I’ve seen at many D1 and D2 showdowns. The student section’s chants were annoying at times, but I’ve seen worse. The only thing missing were cheerleaders. If they show up for the boy’s games but not the girls, Brea loses points.
Then there was the coaches: The contrast between the coaching styles on the two benches couldn’t have been more striking.
On the Cajon side there was Coach Mark Lehman, who rose from the bench only at timeouts until the last two minutes of the game. The rest of the time, he sat with his leg crossed. At the timeout before the start of the second quarter, Lehman didn’t even say anything organized to his team; it was just he and his two assistants standing over them having random conversations with each other or players.
Monique and I noticed that none of the coaches ever say anything to Clarendon during timeouts; they just speak to the other four players. Also, Lehman only played two of his four bench players until less than a minute to go, when it was almost certain they’d lost.
On the other bench is type-AAA Brea Coach Jeff Sink, who Monique and I are convinced is crazy. His shiny white forehead jutted from his receeding hairline, and he never sat down once. He paced back and forth the entire game, between sips of a Diet Coke he clearly didn’t need, and took turns yelling at the refs, screaming at his players or getting on one of his assistant coaches.
In fact, next to Clarendon walking up the court, Sink’s propensity to require an explanation from the refs on every single call that went Cajon’s way annoyed us the most. I can understand asking about one or two calls, but not each and every one. It makes me wonder what he’s like at home.
Sink has a young male assistant coach who seems to be just as intense as he is. They speak to each other with their faces close together, doing lots of pointing. During the last few minutes of the game, young coach grabbed the back of the shirt of the female assistant coach and began talking to her, making hand gestures in her face. He guided her to sit down, and once there, he leaned down into her face and made some more hand gestures while speaking, eyes wide open.
No one seems to be phased by this – least of all, the players. At one point Sink was halfway onto the court yelling at a girl like a crazy man, and she just looked him in the face and nodded, saying something that I couldn’t hear. Then she calmly walked off.
Sink has the respect of the students, too. During one of the courses of “o-ver-ray-ted!” Sink held up his palm to the student crowd, and they suddenly fell silent. It was amazing. After the game, the same group of students gathered on the court as the team walked out to the locker room and chanted, “Sink! Sink! Sink! Sink!” Does he feel like a celebrity yet? I would.
From the “what the heck?” department: Burnside did something in the fourth quarter that Monique and I had never seen before. When the ball went out of bounds off of Cajon, Burnside would make sure she was right there as the ref came back with the ball. He’d hand it to her, and she’d set the ball down on the baseline and then stand over it. This would force the Brea player to reach down and get it, which would eat up precious time. It was clearly an in-your-face thing on the part of Burnside.
Burnside did this twice, and on the third try, the ref finally called her for delay of game. Monique and I didn’t understand why they let her get away with it twice beforehand. And what are the Cajon coaches teaching their kids in either letting them do that or instructing them to do so? Wow.
Interesting fact: Brea has 17 girls on its varsity team. 17!
Interesting fact 2: Sink seems to be insistent on making at least five passes during an offensive set. Monique would hear him say “one more” at times when a player was stalling with the ball at the side of the key.
Bottom line: It was hard for Monique and I to believe that these teams were ranked second and third in the state, much less second or third in the nation. We saw better play earlier this month at the Fairfax Tournament than we saw last night. It’s obviously time for some new rankings.