Meek, Southridge girls basketball rolls past Mountainside
In a game where emotions ran high, the competitive tension was tangible, where the past collided with the present and perhaps the future, it was the maestro draped in cardinal red and black who sent a statement loud and clear enough for the entire Class 6A classification to hear.
Southridge isn't going anywhere, folks. McKelle Meek and her mob of highly motivated, impassioned teammates will make sure of that.
Facing off against former teammate Cameron Brink and up-and-coming Mountainside in a game thick with storylines, backstories and history, Meek balled out, scoring a game-high 35 points to along with four assists and four steals. The Skyhawks, as a whole, played incensed and connected on both ends of the court. They followed their captain's lead and put together perhaps their best game of the season in polishing off a 58-44 win on Friday night at Mountainside High School.
"What I loved is how our girls played together as a team and sacrificed all over the place for each other," Southridge head coach Michael Bergmann. "It's fun to watch when they play like that. For these seniors, this is their last year. You have to leave it out there, enjoy playing and enjoy playing with each other. The girls have been through a lot. This game wasn't our season. It was a big game against a great team. It was all fun, but we're not playing for tonight. We're playing for later on down the road."
"(Southridge) was on a mission tonight and they accomplished it," Mountainside head coach Glen Lee said. "It was tough. Our kids were a little nervous, you could tell. We need to approach those games with a little more pep in our step and a little more heart. But Southridge was impressive."
It doesn't take a mind reader or a body language expert to discern Southridge's motivation. There was an edge to the Skyhawks, a ruthlessness that wasn't angry or malcontented or hate-filled. Like any team that loses their star, they were out to prove they could win without Brink, that though the legend was gone, the show would still go on. It was primal. Probably personal on some level. Southridge has absorbed its share of shade since Brink's departure. Its intent has been cross-examined; its fieriness was put under a microscope for inspection, its talent level unjustly looked over. For a team that appeared in the last three Class 6A state titles and won two of them, the Skyhawks got the short end of the stick, unfairly scorned after a three-year run of sheer excellence. But Friday night was substantial evidence that even without Brink, Southridge is a staggeringly tough squad, one whose playing peak is a pure force of nature.
The capacity crowd didn't come out just to support a budding rivalry between two schools that share the same backyard. This was billed as Brink versus Southridge, the recently minted McDonald's All-American squaring off against her old school where she became a household name and helped take the Skyhawks to two state titles. The intrigue around the Beaverton area was immense and expansive. The rematch on Feb. 18 at Southridge will be just as electric. If we're ever so lucky to get a third matchup at the Class 6A state tournament, so help us, basketball gods, the suspense would be as suffocating as Southridge's man-to-man defense. These are two teams fighting for the same territory, the same goals. Mountainside stands in Southridge's way. And for one scintillating evening, the Skyhawks were the superior team.
"I think we were just in awe, we had the deer in the headlight look," Lee said. "But every game we've struggled in we've come back and corrected the wrong. We just have to have the ability to strike back. We didn't have that at all tonight. We've played on some big stages already at UP (Chiles Center for the MLK Classic) and in Phoenix (for the Nike Tournament of Champions). But Southridge won the battle of Scholls Ferry."
Southridge was flat out pitiless offensively hunting mismatches in the halfcourt, picking on Mountainside's lesser-knowns and going right at them to make them show and prove. Sometimes Southridge didn't have to run offensive sets. They spread the court for Meek and let her filet the young Mavericks, dicing them up with crossovers, speed dribble blow byes, and-ones, tough takes that she finished with her left hand. Mountainside couldn't keep Meek out of the lane. Whenever Meek was allowed to go one-on-one, she cooked.
"She was attacking, and they didn't have an answer for her so why stop attacking at that point?" Bergmann said. "It wasn't like she was shooting every time she got it and she wasn't shooting any crazy shots. I really liked how efficient she was."
Kaylen Blair pierced the lane off the bounce for twos. Kyla Vinson fought for post position with the Mavericks' youthful wings like it was a state championship game and often had her way inside. Maya Hoff was outstanding off the dribble, knifing the lane with a calm presence, always making the right play whether it was passing to an open teammate or freeing herself for midrange looks. Tait Quinlan's cat-quick hands and touch around the rim with both hands were critical when Meek prodded the lane and dished inside. Emoney Reid came off the bench and provided a spark with her post defense and intensity on the glass. They compete freely and ferociously with a calculated sense of who to pick on and who to wear out. Over the final five minutes of the second quarter, Southridge outscored Mountainside 18-6 and took a commanding 35-16 lead into halftime.
"The girls are so smart, I didn't call half of those (plays), they just found them," Bergmann said. "We have a team that can find mismatches and that's where that coming together and being unselfish and finding the good shot is important."
Southridge made just two three-pointers, only because the three-time Metro champs had such success taking the ball to the rim. Of Southridge's 58 points, 30 came from the paint and 16 came from the free throw line. Much of that offensive success derived from Southridge's preplanned scheme. With Kailyn Dawkins roaming the perimeter as the Skyhawk's so-called "center", Brink was forced away from the paint and onto the outskirts of the three-point line defensively. That opened up driving lanes for Meek and Blair, quick duck-in post-ups for Quinlan and Vinson and created swaths of space for Southridge to operate out of, all with Brink out of harm's way.
"You can't shoot over (Brink), I saw that for years," Bergmann said with a smile. "We were just trying to get her out of the paint and make her move. She's improved a ton on defense, but she's not the same outside as she is inside. She's probably the best player in the nation in the key."
Meek is playing like the best point guard in the state, maybe the top guard in Oregon, period. She's never been asked to do more than she has this season with scoring, distributing, defense and leadership but she's balancing it all with a surreal levelheadedness that speaks to her talent. Against Mountainside, Meek sizzled. In the second quarter, Meek rejected a ball screen crossed over from right to left, got a half step and finished through contact for an and-one.
In the fourth quarter, Meek dipped her shoulder into a Maverick and put home a contested two, then the sly senior point guard jumped Brink's baseline out of bounds entry, picked the ball and laid it in before her former teammate could recover and block the shot to go up 54-33. Her finishing ability with either hand was superb. She never ran out of steam or stamina, taking a minute here and there to collective herself on the bench, but only to get up and barrel right back to the rim.
"McKelle was awesome," Lee said. "She's got great instincts. We need to do a better job of how we're going to attack them next time."
Southridge led by as much as 23 in the fourth. Lee pulled his starters with two and a half minutes go as the crowd slowly started filing out the exits. For as charged as the game's atmosphere was, neither team was chippy toward one another. Play was physical but well within the rules. From the time Brink and Meek met up at center court to greet the referees before the game to Brink shaking Bergmann's hand after being introduced pregame, to the Skyhawks patting their former comrade on the back in the postgame handshake, everything was civil and kosher. Southridge channeled its reaction in a positive way and kept any simmering sentiments below the surface. Mountainside showed flashes of sure potential. Brink was worth the price of admission as always, pouring in 17 points including two ascetically pleasing three-pointers to go along with 10 rebounds and three assists. Sophomore Lindsey Wilson was a fitting high-low partner with Brink, scoring 11 points, many floating from block to block. And while Lee doesn't want to use youth as a crutch, and as much as he points to Mountainside's strength of schedule, this was a different type of setting. This was borderline hostile in a competitive, non-nasty on-court sense. The Skyhawks' defense was vintage. It seemed like Southridge had two extra players on the floor defensively at times. They covered the court with connectivity and effort, doubling Brink when she touched the ball, getting out to deadeye shooters like Carly Stone and Taylor Smith, taking away Mountainside's strength with energy and effort. Hoff, Vinson, Dawkins and Meek are each all-league caliber defender who can shut down any offense put in front of them when the switch is flipped. It all amounted to Mountainside being blown out for the first time all year.
"(Southridge) was a lot more physical than we were," Lee said. "They doubled quite a bit. They were all over the place."
Quinlan and Blair both had six points for Southridge. Hoff added five and Allyson Morley tacked on four. Southridge (10-4 overall, 3-0 in Metro) hosts Sunset and Aloha next week before facing Beaverton in a huge Metro contest on Feb. 4 at Beaverton High. Mountainside (10-7 overall, 2-2 in Metro) has a week off before traveling to Sunset on Feb. 31.
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