Pali High Basketball Squads Advance to City Section Finals
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
A feeling of pride permeated the Southwest College gym last Saturday afternoon: Palisades pride. For the first time in school history, the boys and girls basketball teams will play for City Section titles on the same day thanks to impressive semifinal wins.
The girls made sure of that, grinding out a 46-43 triumph over Granada Hills in a matchup between last year’s Open and Division I champions.
Senior captain Jane Nwaba led the way with 15 points, 15 rebounds, seven blocks and four steals and her drive and layup gave the Dolphins their first lead, 17-15, late in the first half.
“The main thing the coaches told us going in was box out, rebound and make smart passes,” said Nwaba, a Pepperdine commit whose five older siblings—Barbara, Alex, David, Victor and Precious—all went to University High. “Precious played against [former Pali High guard and City MVP Chelsey Gipson] and told me to come to Pali. Being the youngest, all of my brothers and sisters push me because they know I can be better than them.”
Barbara starred in track and field at UC Santa Barbara and finished 12th in the heptathlon at the 2016 Summer Olympics and David has played for several NBA teams, making his league debut with the Lakers in 2017.
The family’s athletic prowess is safe with Jane. She was a freshman when the Dolphins lost in the City Open Division finals in 2017 in their last year under former coach Torino Johnson. She got injured halfway through her sophomore season and without her Palisades dropped its last nine games. She returned last winter as the Dolphins won the City Division I crown and made the Division III regional finals.
“I wasn’t intense at the end,” Nwaba said. “I stopped hustling and rebounding and my coaches let me know. Fortunately Alexis [Pettis] played very well.”
Sammie Arnold added 10 points, six rebounds and five assists as the top-seeded Dolphins saw an 11-point lead trimmed to four with 50 seconds left before Demonnie Lagway sank a pair of clinching free throws.
“We’ve played such a tough schedule, we’ve been in so many close games so this was nothing new,” Arnold said. “We do what we have to do to win.”
Palisades plays league rival Hamilton for the title Saturday.
A few hours before on the same floor the boys booked their first trip to a City final since 1970 with a 44-35 upset of No. 1 seed View Park, a team that had knocked the Dolphins out of the playoffs the previous two seasons.
Graham Alphson scored six points in each half and blocked seven shots, Caden Arnold had 10 points and 11 rebounds and Anthony Spencer added eight points and three steals for the No. 5-seeded Dolphins, who won their only City title in 1969 under their first coach Jerry Marvin.
Palisades opened a 22-5 lead early and the Knights never got closer than six points thereafter. “Graham’s like our wheels, once he gets moving we all get moving,” Dylan Griffin said. “A car can’t move without the wheels.”
The victory capped a week of redemption for Palisades, which avenged two close league defeats to University with a 48-47 quarterfinal win three nights earlier. Alphson had 18 points and Griffin and Sheldon Zanders each had nine. The Dolphins survived when Uni missed a last-second jumper.
Palisades plays Narbonne for the Division I title. The sixth-seeded Gauchos edged No. 2 Granada Hills 50-48 in the first semifinal.
“We’re not going to overlook them,” Zanders said. “We’ll watch video, come up with a gameplan and we just have to execute it.”
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