Saturday, April 17, 2010

Boo Williams survives Day One - barely

Boo Williams certainly has some nice players. But Friday, it took them a while to start playing like a nice team. And that led to some pretty nice drama in the elite 16-and-under division of the Nike Boo Williams Invitational at the BooPlex in Hampton.

Almost too much drama for the man himself, who scratched his head as he leaned back in a chair after his team's 63-61 first-round escape over the youthful Arizona Warriors.

"We've been practicing for five weeks," Williams said. "But it looked like we just met in the parking lot."

Much is expected of this Boo Williams team, and why not? As usual, Williams has assembled a star-laden roster, this one boasting five players in ESPN Hoopgurlz' Top 100. Granted, the most coveted one of them all, Princess Anne center Elizabeth Williams, was absent Friday (she's expected back for the tournament Saturday). But that still leaves Tennessee-bound Cierra Burdick, Duke commits Whitney Knight and Ka'lia Johnson, and a host of other players the assembled who's who of Division I college coaches are targeting.

As Boo's players discovered, Arizona's girls have talent, too. They're just young - five are still in ninth grade while another is but an eighth-grader. They didn't look terribly imposing; even their jerseys appeared to be simple white T-shirts with numbers attached. And there were only eight of them.

But all eight know how to play. More importantly, they know how to play together. All live in the same neighborhood and are teammates at Arizona state runner-up St. Mary's. Several have played together for years.

So in this particular case, eight was very nearly enough. It must be daunting traveling 2,000 miles to play against Boo Williams' team in Boo Williams' tournament in Boo Williams' gym. But these Warriors were fearless.

"Going in I was a little concerned because they're awfully good," Arizona coach Curtis Ekmark said. "But we have a special group. We wanted to play against the best."

When we arrived early in the first half, we weren't surprised to see the home team ahead by eight. That is, until we realized that Arizona was designated the home team and was handing it to the sleeker, more athletic Boo Williams side. A pet play by the Heat was to penetrate and kick out to a 3-point shooter, then make a second pass to another 3-point shooter before letting it fly. Boo's players were continually late rotating out on the extra pass, and they were continually burned.

"We probably took them for granted a little bit, but then they started making shots," Williams said of the Warriors, who splashed 10 3-pointers for the game. "They shot the eyes out of the ball."

Boo's team cut the deficit to just two at halftime, then watched Arizona skip out to a 14-point advantage with less than eight minutes to go. It was only then that the Williams' girls dug in defensively, cutting off the drives to the hoop and securing the 3-point line. They also pressed Arizona into submission, emboldened by the lack of a whistle on anything short of outright assault.

"Their physicality wore us down a little bit," Ekmark said.

Offensively, a trio of players from Group AAA state champion Lake Taylor led the way. Toia Giggetts and Crystal Leary combined for 17 points, and point guard Linda Stepney scored 15 all by herself, including the driving layup that snapped a 55-55 tie and gave her team the lead for good.

Still, it took a block on Arizona's potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer for the Boo Williams team to survive an inauspicious start against the upstart Warriors.

Saturday's prospects (Boo Williams plays against the Utah Flight at 10:50 a.m.) appear more promising. Elizabeth Williams will be back. They certainly won't be taking anyone else for granted. And the players finally seem to understand the value of defending the 3-point line.

The lack of team chemistry Boo Williams bemoaned Friday may be a bit more elusive. But we're expecting that to be a lot better on Day Two as well.

After all, it's not as though these players just met in the parking lot.

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