Here are a few thoughts from last weekend's Missouri Class 4 and 5 state basketball championships in Columbia.
Vashon High's spectacular run of 60 consecutive victories came to an end on Saturday night when the Wolverines were defeated by Poplar Bluff 72-56 in the Class 5 state championship game in Columbia.
McDonald's All-American Tyler Hansbrough of Poplar Bluff was simply too much for the Wolverines (and anybody else in the state, for that matter) in leading his Mules to the promised land for the second-consecutive year. A fierce competitor to the highest degree, Hansbrough was simply not going to be denied. The combination of Hansbrough's Shaq-like dominance, younger brother Ben's strong guard play and some stellar shooting by role players Allan Spencer and Brad Chronister spoiled the end of Vashon's dynamic run n for the time being.
Despite the loss, it was a tremendous year for the Wolverines, who had the big streak and the magical No. 1 ranking in the USA Today national high school polls for several weeks. Vashon nearly made history with a team with no stars, but a group of excellent players who were committed to winning.
Seniors Johnny Hill, Kenny Daniels and juniors Bobby Hill and James Washington had to grow up in a hurry as mere pups in 2003. They experienced the tragic loss of teammate Malik White to a shooting and the loss of leader Dwayne Polk to a serious knee injury. The Wolverines became a young and inexperienced team all of the sudden and fell short of winning the Public High League and getting to the state tournament in 2003.
But out of that extreme adversity grew a toughened group of youngsters that won a state title, went undefeated for nearly two years and achieved a No. 1 national ranking for the first time in the school's history. It also sets up what should be another strong year in 2006 with the return of Washington, Hill and Brian Roach for their senior years with some talented youngsters waiting in the wings.
Best big man, guard
Hansbrough of Poplar Bluff is the best big man in the state while Marcus Walker of Kansas City O'Hara is the best guard in Missouri. Both stars were not to be denied in their quest for state championship glory. The 6'9" 245-pound Hansbrough was a wrecking ball in leading Poplar Bluff to the Class 5 title. He had 31 points and 19 rebounds in the semifinals against Rockhurst and 29 points and 16 rebounds in the finals against Vashon. The kid was unstoppable. Walker was just as dominant in the Class 4 Final Four. He had 31 points in the semifinals against Cape Girardeau Notre Dame, then followed that up with a brilliant 40-point performance in O'Hara's 81-77 overtime victory over Willard in the championship game. Hansbrough is headed to North Carolina while Walker will attend Nebraska.
Incarnate Word Academy finished third in the Class 5 tournament for the second-consecutive year. The Red Knights were defeated by eventual state champion Springfield Kickapoo 41-31 in the semifinals on Friday night. IWA came back to defeat Nerinx Hall 62-43 in the third-place game. The Red Knights should be formidable again in 2006 with the return of 6'2" forward Felicia Chester and improving 5'11" post player Theresa Davis.
Congrats to the girls of Nerinx Hall, Jennings and the boys at Westminster Christian on making their first appearances in the Final Four. All three teams brought home fourth-place trophies.
Jennings was edged by St. James 49-47 in the third-place game. Junior forward Brittany Noel tied the game at 47-47 with an acrobatic 3-pointer with 17 seconds left, but St. James standout Jennifer Bowen won its with a jumper in the closing seconds. Jennings senior Maria Bratcher closed out a stellar career with 20 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks in the third place game.
On the Illinois side, the Alton Redbirds have enjoyed a magnificent season under second-year coach Lee Bennett. The Redbirds took a school-record 27-6 mark into Tuesday night's game against Carbondale in the IHSA Class AA Supersectionals at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. Alton has been led all season by 6'7" senior Lorenzo Taylor, who averages 14 points and 10 rebounds a game. Taylor hit an 18-footer at the buzzer to give the Redbirds a 50-48 victory over Edwardville in the sectional championship game in Springfield.
Several St. Louis area players will be participating in the NCAA Men's and Women's Tournaments, which begin today. Good luck to Darren Brooks (Jennings), Stetson Hairston (Belleville East), Mike Dale (Belleville East), Josh Warren (Borgia) and Randal Falker (Gateway Tech) of Southern Illinois; Curtis Marshall (McCluer North) of Texas Tech; David Lee (Chaminade) of Florida; and Diamond Gladney (Cleveland Naval Jr. ROTC) of Ohio University. Playing in the women's tournament are Dionnah Jackson (Parkway West) of Oklahoma and Amber Shelton (Edwardsville) of Illinois State.
Congrats to former Saint Louis University coach Lorenzo Romar, who led his Washington Huskies to the No. 1 seed in the Albuquerque. Romar led the Billikens to the Conference USA tournament title in 2000. Now, he has his alma mater, U-Dub, among the best programs in the country. Romar's top assistant at SLU, Randy Bennett, will lead his St. Mary's team into a first-round match-up with Southern Illinois.
Potential First Round shocker: Utah State (No. 14 seed) vs. Arizona (No. 3) in Boise tonight. Arizona has the talent to get to St. Louis, but it must get by a dangerous Utah State team in the first round.
Best Region: For sheer entertaining basketball, it's out west in the Albuquerque. You have some high-octane teams such as Washington, Wake Forest, Gonzaga, Louisville, Georgia Tech leading the way.