Fairfax Tournament/LA City Showcase

I always enjoy this premiere high school girl’s basketball tournament, and this year was no exception. There was a lot of high-quality ball played, and I was delighted to see a big chunk of it. Living at the tourney was even easier this year because some friends of mine were selling their basketball-themed T-shirts there. I’d watch a game, talk with them on breaks, and go watch another game. Most of the time, Monique went with me to watch the games, leaving her partner in crime to do the sales. Sweet deal.

Title game, Jan. 10: Washington Prep 55, Fairfax, 42

It was not surprising to see these two athletic teams face off in the championship game. What was unexpected was that it took almost three minutes into the first quarter for anyone to get some points on the board – and they were they were Washington free throws, at that. A few seconds later Fairfax got a point from a free throw, and after that, it seemed like a damn broke and the real game was “on.”

The Generals went on a run. Reshanda Gray scored on a put-back, then hit on an in-bounds pass; Tayllor Gipson had a nice pull-up jumper from the left corner; Kejuanna Gardner made a sweet backboard shot; Jazmin Gray ran for a layup; Gardner assisted J. Gray on an outside shot. Washington was up 14-3 with about two minutes left in the quarter.

The Lions began to fight back in the middle of the second quarter. Point guard Priscilla Walker made a few crucial points at the end of the first, but the heroics that had saved her team earlier in the week weren’t working yesterday, as her shots weren’t falling. Nor were the free throw shots of her team, at first. But Fairfax was able to capitalize on a two suspect calls from the refs (who were horrible, by the way) to cut Washington’s lead to 18-15 at the 2:56 mark.

It was at this point that the refs demonstrated their incompetency: when Walker drove into the lane, one ref called a charge and the other, a block. Everyone had stopped, and they stared at each other. Then, just like in the WNBA, all three refs had to have a conference about it.

Walker was given her free throw shots, but Gardner then hit from the left, and then Gipson hit two from the charity stripe. Fairfax’ Jasmine Grayson hit a pull-up jumper at the end, leaving Washington with a 24-19 lead at the half. Gardner had played the entirety of both quarters.

The Lions came into the half on fire, hitting their first two shots, getting steals, and responding to every Washington basket. The athleticism of both teams was on tap. In one instance, six players from both teams were on the floor fighting for a loose ball. Later on, Gardner passed high to Cheyenne Bonam, who caught it mid-air as her body was sideways, the shape of an upside-down “L.” The Generals were up 35-30 at the end of the third.

Both teams continued to battle in the final quarter, and Fairfax stayed within 3-5 points. Candyse Farmer was amazing, stealing the ball again and again, then streaking down the court for the fast break. (Monique had nicknamed her “Steal” earlier in the week).

Gardner was ridiculous. She was doing everything – taking the ball up court (at 5’11”), snatching rebounds, getting the ball into the hoop repeatedly – and sometimes on amazing turn-around jumpers. On one play, she took it up the court, drawing two defenders. She head-faked left and then leaned right and did a one-hand push bounce pass to her teammate, who scored. Both the Lions who had been in pursuit of Gardner fell to the floor.

With about two minutes left to play, Washington broke it open by scoring, while Fairfax committed costly turnovers. They were ahead 49-42 with 57 seconds left, but with the help of a lot of (literally) last-minute free throw shots and two runaway shots at the end, the final score was 55-42.

The game was everything you’d want in a championship game: it was fast-paced, exciting and close most of the time. The crowd was great, too, because while there were fans of both teams, there wasn’t any taunting or unsportsperson-like conduct.

Named to the all-tournament team were Fairfax’ Grayson and Farmer, and Washington’s Gardner, R. Gray and Gipson; Gardner was also the tournament MVP.

“Whenever we can stay focused against the press instead of throwing the ball away, we’re doing fine,” Generals Coach Ricky Blackmon said of his squad.

Gardner had 15 points, 11 rebounds and four steals in the game. Two days earlier, in the semi-final, she scored 21 points.

I also give props to Fairfax’ Walker, who had 21 points in her team’s victory Tuesday.

Third and fourth place: Carson and Poly (Sun Valley)

What the heck happened to Carson in the last year? They were a solid squad in 2007-2008, but this year they are contenders in every sense of the word: outside shooting, defense, athleticism, ball movement.

After Thursday’s semi-final against Washington, I asked Carson Coach W. Marcel Sanders what he’d done over the course of a year, and he just smiled and said, “hard work.” Well, sign me up.

The Generals and the Colts will be battling it out in coming weeks for the Marine League title, and the quest started Thursday. Carson built an early lead in the first quarter and kept it going the entire game. Washington was down by at least 12 most of the time, and as much as 17 at one point.

But thanks to a late fourth-quarter rally, sparked and carried by Gardner, Washington pulled out the win. This sent the Generals to the finals and the Colts to the third-place match, which they won yesterday.

Carson is extremely impressive this year. Monique and I were especially amazed by the outside shooting of Chante Miles and Daphne Rabot. And Miles is only a sophomore! Stay tuned.

Washington and Carson will play their first league game Friday night at Carson, and like the Jackson Five, I’ll be there.

Poly of Sun Valley is an up-and-coming team. Their coach (whose name isn’t on maxpreps) was cool and knowledgeable, and the girls all played their butts off every time. They easily handled Roosevelt and Garfield before losing to Fairfax on Thursday. This team has a lot of potential.

It was kind of a long haul; I saw 12 games at this tournament. But I’m going to do it again next year.

Final note: Kejuanna Gardner is a beast. A hungry, aggressive, glowering-with-determination beast.