CHANDLER, Ariz. — The Auburn Riverside girls basketball team lost for the first time in 11 months Thursday.
After running through competition and closing a 2006-2007 campaign with a 27-2 record and the 3A state title, the Ravens opened the season with four straight wins before running into national No. 1 Notre Dame Academy (7-0).
The top-ranked Dragons used a 14-9 third quarter to pull away from Auburn Riverside, 51-41, and advance to Friday’s semifinal round of the Nike Tournament of Champions in Chandler, Ariz.
It was Auburn Riverside’s first loss since Jan. 15, when the Ravens lost to Redondo Union High in California.
The Ravens, now 4-1 this season, stuck with the Dragons for much of the first half, heading into the locker room behind by just two points, 22-20.
But Florida-bound Azania Stewart and her teammates turned it on in the second half, while the Ravens’ shooting went cold. Stewart finished with 20 points.
Auburn Riverside sophomore Mercedes Wetmore led the Ravens with 18 points, including four three-pointers, while senior Katie Grad added 12.
“Our kids play hard,” coach Adam Barrett said. “We didn’t knock down shots as we normally do, but give them credit. They’re good.”
Regardless of the outcome, Barrett and his team had a somewhat positive outlook on the 10-point loss to the nation’s top team.
“It was an amazing feeling,” said Wetmore. “Only four teams every year get to play the number one team (at the TOC), so we wanted it bad. But they’re just that good.”
“That was just the experience of a lifetime,” Barrett said. “To get to play the number one team to a two-point ballgame at the half…but in the second half, we just didn’t have answers.”
That’s just as well, since Notre Dame Academy coach Mike Teasley showered Auburn Riverside with praise after the game.
“I loved them,” Teasley said. “They get after it. … He’s playing a lot of kids, they’re coming at you, they’re interchanging, they’re stroking the three, they keep coming back. They’re tough.”
The Ravens move to a consolation bracket with a chance to finish fifth in the tournament. They face Sequoyah, of Tahlequah, Okla., Friday at 12:40 p.m. PST.
– Mindi Rice