Gray, Tigard girls basketball stuns No. 1 Southridge on the road
Hold off on hemming together Southridge's Vegas gold, cardinal red and black Class 6A state championship three-peat banner.
At least for now.
Tigard — a team that doesn't trot out a starter taller than 5-foot-8 — not only proved Southridge is indeed mortal but announced itself to the 6A classification as a true title contender. Led by the late-game heroics of Tiger point guard Campbell Gray and a tenacious team-wide effort throughout from the likes of firecracker Kennedy Brown and sharpshooter Delaney Leavitt, Tigard took out Southridge 54-50 on Dec. 7 at Southridge High School.
Gray was the luminary, hitting a tough turnaround fadeaway jumper with 10.2 seconds to go in the fourth quarter to give Tigard a 52-50 lead. Then, after Tiger freshman Sarah Lamet closed out hard on Southridge star Cameron Brink and contested the Stanford commit's potential game-tying jumper into a miss, Gray walked to the free throw and calmly swished two free throws to extend the lead to 54-50 with 0.9 to go.
The Hawks' home gym, normally animated and alive with emotion, fell silent. The only sound coming from "The Cage" was the jubilant screams of a Tiger team that went on the road, squared up their nationally-ranked foe and flummoxed them with moxie and sheer willpower — a testament to a squad that's now firmly in the state title conversation.
"I've coached these girls long enough now and I know they grind," Tigard head coach Steve Naylor said. "We've lost close games, but it's never because of effort. We wanted to see who the last person standing would be...I was never afraid we were going to give up or give in."
To many around the Portland Metro area and state at large, the upset was massive. The Skyhawks, led by one of the best juniors in the nation in Brink according to ESPN, were seen by some as bulletproof. Even with a few sizable departures from Southridge's latest mini-dynasty, opposing coaches viewed the Skyhawks as deathless. Tigard, in early December, proved otherwise. The win sent social media ablaze. Twitter buzzed as players from Beaverton and Benson undoubtedly raised their eyebrows at the result. Southridge's last loss to an in-state opponent occurred nearly two years ago to La Salle at the Nike Interstate Shootout. What Tigard created was a renewed sense of 6A parity, opening the door however so slightly for the rest of the field against a Skyhawk unit that looks different than years' past but is by no means any less formidable. To the Tigers, however, it was just one non-league win, their fourth of the year, to be exact. For all the postgame backslapping and state-wide acclaim, Tigard knew the significance doesn't carry as much bearing if it can't convey this conquering into its practices this week and the subsequent non-league slate.
"This was just another game, we treat everyone the same, and we still have a long season to go," Gray said. "We didn't hit a lot of shots in that game. I think we can play a lot harder and a lot cleaner. We just have to keep working hard. It was a team win where everyone contributed and played their part."
The keys to the victory were wide-ranging, but they started and ended on the defensive end. Tigard, normally a team that deploys a 2-3 zone, implemented a 1-3-1 attack constructed specifically to have two defenders on Brink at all times. Whenever Brink was in the paint, which was often, the Tigers stationed a defender in front of her and another behind her every single trip down the floor, essentially denying Brink the basketball with a constant double team. Lamet's long wingspan dissuaded Southridge's guards from feeding Brink in the post and senior Dani Lyons made sure the 6'5" star couldn't get comfortable by physically pushing her out of her sweet spots, away from ideal offensive rebounding position. The bold strategy invited the other Skyhawks to shoot from deep. And while Southridge got its share of open looks, more times than not, the ball didn't travel through the rim. Brink finished with just 14 points. Southridge made six threes, four from the hands of Blair. Not bad, considering Naylor hadn't used the defense since 2013 and reintroduced the scheme two days before the Southridge game, much to the reluctance of his players.
"That was all Naylor," Gray said with a smile. "We really pride ourselves on defensive intensity and it really helps us get going in games."
Amazingly, Tigard only committed five turnovers all game, a rare feat against a Skyhawk squad that commonly sends teams down a rabbit hole of turnovers and miscues with its suffocating fullcourt press. Even when Southridge led 23-14 in the second quarter, Tigard didn't shoot itself in the foot because of the lack of takeaways. Instead, the Tigers ran a clean, smooth operating offense. Gray scored the Tigers' last six points off of the second quarter in the final 90 seconds of the half, giving her team a huge lift of momentum. Leavitt came up big as well, burying two threes including a sidestep triple going to her left hand. Lamet was active in the middle of the Tiger offense, finding gaps in the Skyhawk extended 2-3 zone, making herself available with high hands and showing off a soft touch from 15 feet and in, scoring eight points in the first half. Tigard's 11-0 second-quarter run gave itself a 25-23 lead going into halftime.
Growing up, whether it's in the driveway or an empty court somewhere honing the craft, every basketball player dreams about the scenario Gray experienced in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter: tie game, ball in her hands, a chance to slay Goliath with one sling. The Tiger point guard whittled down the clock, drove right toward the center of the key, spun back to her left and lofted a soft turnaround fade-away jumper that bounced on the front of the rim and spun in with 10.2 seconds to go to give Tigard a 52-50 lead.
"I just kept my composure and tried to fight through," Gray said. "I want the ball in those moments for sure. That was a good end to a really fun game."
Gray's jumper was the culmination of a wild fourth quarter between two teams who could very well see each other down the road. Tigard inched its 40-38 third quarter lead to 50-43 midway through the fourth. Brown burrowed to the rim for two layups, Gray swished a tough mid-range jumper and Leavitt buried a left corner three off a Gray drive-and-kick.
But Southridge countered with a 7-0 run over a 1:10 span, fueled by takeaways and Tigard fouls that not only stopped the clock but allowed the Skyhawks to cut the lead at the free throw line without sacrificing time. Kaylen Blair hit a big three and Brink was able to battle inside for offensive boards that led to shots at the charity stripe. Suddenly, a game that Tigard had total control of, was knotted up at 50-50 with 2:50 to go in the fourth.
"Southridge wasn't going to go away," Naylor said. "We knew they were coming and then we just said 'Hey, we gotta go play'. It turned our way."
Brown and Brink got tangled up tussling for a loose ball that was called a jump ball. In the heat of the moment, the two uber competitors took exception to each other's gusto and started pushing at each other, provoking a double technical foul with 26 seconds to go. The possession arrow, however, pointed toward Tigard, giving Gray and the Tigers the ball at halfcourt. Southridge wasn't in the bonus yet, meaning the Metro monarch could foul and still not send Tigard to the free throw line for a one-and-one possibility. So, Naylor said the Tigers wanted to attack before there were 10 seconds left on the game clock, to avoid the foul and try to catch the Skyhawks sleeping. The go-ahead play wasn't necessarily designed for Campbell either, but when the lead guard found herself with the rock, one-on-one in the middle of the floor, the seasoned head coach was at peace. Naylor said Gray is the "best passer" he's ever coached, someone who's actively interested in getting her teammates involved. But over the years the Tiger coaching staff has urged the floor general to attack more often, to seek scoring chances. And with the game on the line, Campbell didn't give up the ball, taking the cue from her coach.
"You look at her in warmups and might not know she's our best player," Naylor said with a smile. "But then you see when she gets the ball in her hands, she's really, really smart. Her first three years of high school, she was a pass-first guard who got everybody else involved and wanted to see how many assists she could get. We wanted her to be more aggressive, to look to score. She's stepped into that role now. She can go get her own and be a little more selfish."
Gray finished with a game-high 18 points, while Leavitt added 15, all of which came off threes. Lamet made it three Tigers in double figures with 12 and Brown added seven. Brink and Blair both bagged 14 points apiece for Southridge and McKelle Meek chipped in 8.
Tigard takes on Beaverton at Beaverton High at 7:15 on Friday. Southridge next plays on Dec. 19 at the Nike Arizona Tournament and returns to in-state competition at the PIL Holiday Classic from Dec. 27-29 at Franklin High School.