Cool in the Clutch

Palisades players celebrate at midcourt moments after winning the City Section Division I girls basketball championship in overtime against defending champion Carson last Saturday afternoon at Southwest College.
Photos by Steve Galluzzo

Palisades Rallies to Defeat Carson in Overtime, 57-54, to Capture City Title

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

Down by three points with the clock running out in the fourth quarter of last Saturday afternoon’s City Section Division I final, Palisades High’s girls basketball team had the ball, but needed a bucket to keep its hopes of victory alive.

Junior forward Jane Nwaba drove to the basket, but was met by two onrushing defenders, so she fired a laser pass to Rose Morris in the corner and she launched a three-pointer with 10 seconds left that rattled in to tie the game and bring Dolphins fans at L.A. Southwest College to their feet.

Sophomore guard Alexis Pettis soars for a layup in Saturday’s City Division I final against Carson.

Leonna Logan missed a desperation three-pointer with less than one second left for Carson, sending the game into overtime. Palisades took command early, then hung on for a 57-54 victory and its sixth City girls crown.

“Coach told us whoever is open—shoot it,” said Morris, who had five points and several key rebounds down the stretch. “Jane had such a good assist, all I had to do was catch and shoot. When it left my hand I thought it was going in. We just kept fighting to the end. It was great competition and a really fun game!”

Palisades led 56-54 when Logan got called for pushing off with nine seconds left in overtime. Pali High sophomore guard Sammie Arnold was fouled intentionally with eight seconds remaining and following a miss on her first free throw attempt she calmly sank the second to pad the Dolphins’ lead. The Colts inbounded the ball to Logan, but she stumbled and fell before she could hoist up a shot, time expired and the Dolphins hugged each other as teammates raced from the bench to join the celebration at midcourt after a thrilling comeback victory.

Freshman guard Demoni Lagway is guarded by Carson senior Leonna Logan in the fourth quarter.

“I was like ‘Oh shoot, I missed the first one,” Arnold said of her clutch free throw in overtime. “I imagined me shooting free throws in my backyard. It’s all that was going through my head.”

Arnold finished as the team’s high scorer with 16 points and hit a three-pointer off a feed from Nwaba to cut Carson’s lead to 44-41 with 1:50 to go in regulation.

“Our rebounding was off and we got in foul trouble early in the second half,” added Arnold, whose brother Caden plays on the Pali High boys varsity team. “I’m cool, I’m always excited to play these games. There was a little pressure to score so when I had an open look I just took it.”

Nwaba, the Dolphins’ leading scoring all season, had 14 points and point guard Alexis Pettis had 10. Nwaba’s putback at the buzzer was waved off and top-seeded Palisades found itself behind 21-18 at halftime, then Nwaba’s tip-in try on an inbounds pass from Arnold rolled off the rim with less than a second left, leaving the Dolphins down 33-27 after three quarters. Still, they never lost hope.    

Sophompre Rose Morris receives her championship medal from Pali High assistant principal Russ Howard during the awards presentation.

“Defensively we came out strong in overtime even though many of us had a lot of fouls,” said Nwaba, who has adjusted to three head coaches in her three seasons at Palisades and played the last four minutes of the fourth quarter and all of overtime Saturday with four fouls. “We kept our hands up and played well. The message at halftime was just to relax and believe that we can win this. We just need to play our game.”

Nwaba’s brother David plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA and she texted him for advice before tip off. Nwaba was a freshman when Palisades lost to Western League rival Fairfax in overtime in the City Open Division final two years ago under Coach Torino Johnson. She missed the last nine games last winter with a fractured finger when the Dolphins finished last in league and fell to Cleveland in the first round of the Division I playoffs under new coach Danielle Foley.

“It’s great hearing from my brother,  it’s very helpful,” Nwaba said. “Even with his busy schedule he finds time to help me out.”

Justina Graham’s layup gave Carson an eight-point lead to open the fourth quarter and after Nwaba answered with a rebound and layup, Logan made two free throws, then Arnold and Logan traded three-pointers as the Colts  still led, 40-32, at the five-minute mark. Morris made a layup, Arnold hit a jumper and suddenly Palisades’ deficit was four, setting the stage for a frantic finish.

Seniors (l-r) Mercy Montgomery, Brooke Messaye and Chaya Brennan with the City championship trophy during the postgame ceremony.

Pettis drained a three-pointer to start the four-minute overtime, Demoni Lagway followed with a layup and the Dolphins led 52-47. Logan answered with a three-pointer but Arnold made two free throws and Nwaba scored off an inbounds pass from Pettis to put Palisades ahead by six with 1:23 left. Logan made a pair of free throws and drove for a layup to pull the Colts within two with 40 ticks left, but her offensive foul on the next possession gave Arnold a chance to ice it.

“In the timeout before our last play in regulation, we thought Jane could expose the slower girl, but they collapsed on her and she kicked it out to Rose, who has hit that shot all year,” said Pali High pilot Adam Levine, who became the first basketball coach in school history to win the City title in his first season. “Our two best players didn’t have their best games, but that’s what’s special about our team. Young players Rose, Demoni [Lagway], Sammie, Sofia [Canter], Janelly [Portillo] and Sydney [Meskin] stepped up. Once it got to overtime we liked our chances. They haven’t played any close games and we’ve played a bunch.”

Palisades, in fact, was pushed from start to finish in its 45-39 semifinal victory over Arleta.      

It was a crushing defeat for the second-seeded Colts (14-8), who were attempting to defend the title they won by defeating Legacy in last year’s final at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Sophomore Sammie Arnold is fouled on her way to the basket in the first half of the City Division I final against Carson at Southwest College.

“It’s tough to swallow… I felt we were the better team going in,” Coach Nicole Perkins said. “We didn’t capitalize on our strengths. That isn’t what we thought we were going to do in the last couple minutes of regulation and in overtime. We were out of sync there.”

Palisades (23-8) advanced to the Southern California Regional playoffs, where it was seeded No. 6 in Division III and hosted No. 11 Brentwood, a Southern Section Division 3AA semifinalist, in the first round Tuesday. If victorious, the Dolphins either host No. 14 Mayfair or travel to No. 3 Poway  in the quarterfinals tonight.