Meek's game-winner gives Southridge girls a big win over Central
A year ago, maybe the last shot of the game goes to the middle, not McKelle Meek.
A season ago, perhaps Kaylen Blair doesn't have the confidence to put up nine three-point attempts, making more than half of them.
When Cameron Brink transferred to Mountainside, everything about the Southridge girls' basketball team shifted. Roles were revised. Shots were redistributed and reallocated. Responsibilities on both ends of the court were heightened for the eight returning Skyhawks. Every player would have to do more out of necessity, get out of their comfort zone, stretch their games and mentalities both individually and as a team.
The void Brink left behind is vast. But it's not unconquerable. Many of the incumbents on the roster are proud state champions, some of them twice over. The senior class helped the Skyhawks win 80 games over the past three years. This is not the Harlem Globetrotters morphing into the Washington Generals. They're talented, skilled and perhaps even more motivated than ever. This season could be seen as a big opportunity, a chance for each player to do more, to be more, for the Skyhawks to show and prove themselves as a program.
So far, Southridge seems to be adjusting just fine.
Down 50-49 with six seconds left against Central Catholic on Tuesday, Meek penetrated the right side of the lane with the floor spread and rolled home the game-winning layup over two Rams to give the Skyhawks a 51-50 win at Southridge High.
"I just had to attack to score," Meek said. "You can't really pass it. I had to attack hard to the rim. I like having the last shot. I was kind of nervous, but it feels good to be the go-to player."
Meek scored six points in the final 2:14 of the fourth en route to 14 points total. Blair went ballistic in the first half, going five-for-five from three-point land, barely hitting the net on any of the long distance looks. Be it sprinting off pindown screens or dribble handoffs, Blair came out firing, with swagger and gusto, not thinking twice about whether to pull the trigger or pass.
"Every shot I had, I thought was going in," Blair said with a smile. "Everyone has to step up, especially in the starting five. We have to try and get the best shots we can and step it up in practice."
Midway through the second quarter Blair made back-to-back triples, then Maya Hoff hounded a Central guard into a turnover that she converted into a layup that gave Southridge a 24-14 lead.
"Kaylen got really hot tonight," Meek said. "She played really well. She had another game like that the last game as well."
Blair, like Hoff, Meek, Emoney Reid, Kyla Vinson, Kilyn Dawkins and Tait Quinlan are adjusting to enhanced capacities. Every player has to be more aggressive. Not one individual is going to get all the shots, but everyone has to chip in, contribute and elevate their respective games. With an egalitarian offensive approach and without a pecking order of who gets to eat first, Southridge is spreading the wealth. Nobody is restricted to a certain task. Nobody is a bystander on either side of the floor. The players aren't pigeonholing their skill sets or deferring to anybody. They're playing collectively, as a unit.
"I think our team chemistry is a lot better," Blair said. "Our team works together better. We have better communication, especially on defense. We move the ball a lot better on offense, too, and look for the best shot we can get."
Admittedly, it's been a transition at times. Hoff hurt her cheekbone in the fall and suffered a tough concussion that sat her down for much of the preseason. This, after breaking her jaw in the Class 6A semifinals against Beaverton last year. The junior guard is just now getting back into the swing of the things and retaking her role as Southridge's defensive stopper and secondary playmaker. Meek has morphed from table-setter to breadwinner, shooting and scoring the ball more than she ever has. Blair is a deadeye from three and a proven dogged perimeter defender. As one of the purest shooters on the team, the senior knows she has to look for her own offense.
Quinlan has a world of potential in the post with a high basketball IQ, sound fundamentals and great touch with both hands around the rim. Against Central, Quinlan couldn't fully get to an offensive board, but with two Rams trying to block her out, the sophomore had the wherewithal to bat the ball back toward an open Hoff who lifted home a floater. Hoff is one of the best defenders in the state. Meek has quicksilver hands, might be the team's best shooter and now she's getting all the field goals attempts she can manage on a nightly basis. Reid is a team captain who is earning her first extended audition in the post. Dawkins is an athletic second-team All-Metro forward with great foot speed, activity and long arms.
Southridge has been to the past three 6A state championship games. They're the three-time defending Metro League champions. As phenomenal as Brink is, as much as maybe the general public takes her for granted, she'd be the first to tell you basketball is a team game. The Skyhawks are still stacked. They're still titlists with more big-game experience that any 6A contender. Meek, Hoff and Blair have been invaluable parts of multiple championship teams. They're not going out without a fight. Southridge will always be the hunted, but for the first time, the white-hot spotlight isn't hovering directly over its head. They can play, progress and mold this team in their image, without repercussion. The conference still runs through them, but for once Southridge can kind of move at its own pace and keep working toward March.
"It's nice not having the biggest target on our back," Meek said. "We just have to come to play every game, bring energy, play hard on both sides of the court. Cameron is a great player and a good athlete. But our chemistry is really good again, so that helps a lot. We have a lot of good players, anyone can score on any given night."
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