LANGLEY — They don’t have a ton of history as far as each other is concerned, but the No. 1 Walnut Grove Gators of Langley and the No. 5 Abbotsford Panthers just might write the first chapter on Saturday night (8 p.m.).
That’s when the two B.C. senior girls AAA powers clash in the championship final of the 2017 Tsumura Basketball Invitational at the Langley Events Centre.
Last season, the two teams met twice, including an opening-round clash at last season’s TBI which Abbotsford won handily on route to the tournament championship title.
Abby also beat Walnut Grove at the Centennial Top 10 shoot-out in January.
“They handled us quite easily both times so hopefully we’re ready to compete against them better,” said Gators head coach Darren Rowell. “That is what I love about this tournament. The calibre of teams is so good and we’re in the B.C. tournament environment. It’s a great check of where we’re at early in the season.”
Here’s our look at Saturday’s two morning semifinals:
No. 5 ABBOTSFORD 93 No. 4 RIVERSIDE 74
LANGLEY — Play hard and make your shots.
Basketball offers no simpler recipe for success than those basic tenets, and on Saturday morning, the Abbotsford Panthers followed them to a T on their way to an overwhelming Tsumura Basketball Invitational semifinal win over Port Coquitlam’s Riverside Rapids.
“We had a great game, and when the ball goes in, you look a lot better,” said Panthers’ head coach Prentice Lenz. “The girls shot the ball especially well, and then the girls that came in off the bench did so with great intensity.”
Abbotsford also moved the ball well inside-out and the flow produced five double-digit scorers and another just outside double digits.
Marin Lenz scored a game-high 24 points, Sydney Fetterly added 23. Kelsey Roufosse had 15, Sienna Lenz 13 and Beryl Kithinji 10. Marissa Dick scored eight points.
The Panthers started slow, but used to big runs to build their advantage.
One was a 19-7 run between the first two quarters, while another was a 33-16 run between the second and third quarters which turned a slim 40-38 lead into a 73-54 lead heading into the fourth.
“Abbotsford is a real tough team, and today all of their scorers were scoring,” summed Riverside coach Jeremy Neufeld. “They made it tough for us and we played too much one-on-one instead of playing more of a team game.”
Sammy Shields led three Rapids in double figures with a game-high 24 points.
No. 1 WALNUT GROVE 96 No. 10 SEMIAHMOO 78
LANGLEY — It’s taken just the first three weeks of the regular season for the Semiahmoo Totems to become a worst-kept secret.
That is, the Grade 9-filled team which beat both the Brookswood Bobcats and the Carson Graham Eagles en route to Saturday morning’s TBI Final Four, are not sneaking up on anyone for at least the next three-plus seasons.
No. 1-ranked Walnut Grove, led by the bookend pair of Jessica Wisotzki and Tavia Rowell, turned on their fast-break jets, storming to a 52-24 lead late in the first half en route to a 96-78 victory and berth in Saturday’s final against defending TBI champion Abbotsford (8 p.m.).
“Oh my goodness they can play,” said Gators head coach Darren Rowell of the Totems. “They don’t play like a young team. They are tenacious on defence, and they are just going to keep getting better.”
The Gators, however, showed how much veteran poise counts, especially when coupled with dynamic players like Rowell and Wizotski.
Rowell hit three of her four triples in the second half, a span in which she scored 17 of her 31 points.
Wisotzki scored 16 of her game-high 32 points over the second half, and was the picture of poise the entire contest, a fact best reflected in her 10-for-10 performance from the free throw line.
The Gators, in fact, went 18-of-21 from the stripe.
Sophia Wisotzki added 17 points and Natalie Rathler nine.
“We focus on what we do, and that is to push the ball and play really fast,” said Rowell. “We had a slow start but intensity picked up and we got better.”
The Totems have been led here throughout the week by the likes of Grade 9s Tara Wallack, Deja Lee and Izzy Forsyth.
On Saturday, it was Raushan Bindra’s turn to lead the way.
The 5-foot-8 guard scored 25 of her team-high 28 points in the second half, including four treys in the fourth quarter.
Lee and Forsyth each added 14 points while Wallack scored 12.
“I am happy with how we played,” said former Canadian national team head coach Allison McNeill. “It’s a big jump for our young kids, and our older kids were playing Tier 2 in the Fraser Valley last year. So we have grown in leaps and bounds.”
McNeill added that the Gators played like a No. 1 team.
“They are a juggernaut and that is where they deserve to be (ranked),” she said. “They share the ball, they play at both ends of the floor and they just had too many weapons.”
That said, the coach added that each game at the TBI “taught a different lesson.”
The biggest takeaways moving forward?
“That the game is faster, like we saw today, especially in transition,” said McNeill of what her young charges encountered. “The players are stronger and more physical. But I think what we also need to realize is that we can compete, and I think that is the most important thing.”
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