Four years ago today the Palisades High girls basketball team was on the brink, trying to win its third straight City Section Open Division championship under Coach Torino Johnson. The Dolphins took on Western League rival Fairfax at Cal State Dominguez Hills and held a 19-point lead midway through the third quarter, but the top-seeded Lions clawed their way back to force overtime and went on to win, 82-80, in one of the most thrillng City finals games ever. Senior guard Chelsey Gipson, the reigning City Player of the Year, fought through fatigue and leg cramps to finish with 28 points, five assists and two steals. She swished three 3-point shots late in the fourth quarter to put the Dolphins up by six, but Fatou Semebene made a layup with 22 seconds remaining to trim Fairfax’s deficit to two. On Palisades’ ensuing possession, Kayla Williams got fouled and converted one of two free throws to make it 73-70 with 20 seconds left. The Dolphins tried their best to defend the perimeter, but crisp inside-out passing allowed Kaylin Brown to get free in the corner and her long-range jumper tied the score with 12 ticks left. The inbounds pass deflected off several hands and players on both teams dove to the floor in desperation, but neither side could secure possession before time expired. Williams committed her fifth foul trying to block a layup on a fast break with 21 seconds left. Semebene’s free throw gave the Lions an 81-80 lead. Teammate Dawnyel Lair missed two free throws with four seconds left, but Semebene was fouled on the rebound and made one of two attempts with under a second left. Williams, a sophomore guard, had 26 points and freshman forward jane Nwaba added eight points and 13 rebounds for the No. 2-seeded Dolphins. A few days before her brother David Nwaba, a former University High standout, made his NBA debut with the LA Lakers. Lair had 35 points for Fairfax, which ended Palisades’ 38-game league winning streak with a 64-59 road victory a month prior. On March 8 the Dolphins traveled to San Diego for the first round of the SoCal Regional Division I playoffs and lost to La Jolla Country Day. Palisades finished the 2016-17 season 25-10 and Johnson resigned that summer.
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