The Long Beach Poly girls’ basketball team hasn’t lost a Moore League contest in 14 years, when Millikan defeated them in the Ron Palmer Pavilion in a thriller. History almost repeated itself on Saturday morning in the RPP, as a game Rams squad pushed the Jackrabbits to the limit on their home court. Thanks to the heroics of senior Nala Williams, the Jackrabbits survived to win 49-42 in overtime to keep their streak alive.
There were plenty of ups and downs for both teams but the story of the day was Williams, who went down with an ankle injury in the third quarter but stayed in the game and led her team to the win with 27 points. Williams had seven points as part of Poly’s 10-0 start to overtime.
“She understands what it means to play here and to wear ‘Poly’ across her chest,” said Poly coach Carl Buggs after the game. “She willed us to a win today.”
Both teams came away from the game feeling like they could have won. Millikan had a lot of looks to take a lead but couldn’t make a 3-pointer until the game’s waning moments and the Rams also went 5/15 at the free throw line. Poly turned it over 18 times and missed a dozen layups.
“I think our girls feel encouraged,” said Millikan coach Lorene Morgan, whose Rams will host Poly on Friday this week. “It was a close game against them and I don’t think anyone on our team feels they played their best game.”
It was tight from the beginning and remained so throughout, as Poly led 13-12 after the first quarter and 25-20 at the break. Millikan came within a point early in the third quarter after five straight points from Amy Walker, who had the score cut to 26-25 in the third. Walker drained a pair of free throws with 3:25 left in the third to put the Rams up 29-28, but Williams quickly rallied with a 5-0 run of her own to put Poly up 33-29 going to the fourth quarter.
In the third, Williams went down with an ankle injury that looked like it might take her out of the game.
“It’s the ankle I’ve hurt before so I could just immediately feel that pain again,” she said. “But I looked up at the scoreboard and we were only up by three and I said there’s no way I can come out. No way.”
Williams’ injury has double significance for the Jackrabbits because they’re scheduled to play two league games on Saturday, a result of COVID-19 postponements and rescheduling.
“A lot of people have it worse than us because of COVID so I’m not going to boohoo about the schedule,” said Williams. “But it’s challenging, for sure.”
The Rams got back-to-back buckets from Sierra Hill to tie it early in the fourth, and Walker put the Rams up 35-34 a few minutes later. But Williams scored five points again to give the Jackrabbits a 39-35 lead with two minutes left.
Millikan’s ball pressure forced turnovers all game, as they were frequently in passing lanes and deflecting ball movement. They did so again late as Hill got a steal and a basket while Poly was trying to drain the clock. Then the Jackrabbits had the ball with 10 seconds left up 39-37, but Williams was trapped in the corner and Hill ended up intercepting a pass and scoring the game-tying layup with just a second left in the game, sending it to OT.
Williams took over in the fourth, with seven points as part of a 10-0 run to start the frame, as the Jackrabbits were able to overcome their turnover challenges and score efficiently, putting up more points in the abbreviated OT period than they had in the third or fourth quarters.
“Millikan fought and they did a great job staying in their defense that was giving us trouble,” said Buggs. “We have to be better, and we have to take better care of the ball—the turnovers are embarrassing.”
Hill led the Rams with 16, backed up by a great game from Walker, who had 13 points, 16 rebounds, and six assists.
Poly was led by Williams’ 27 points and 17 rebounds, six from Jaleina Taliauli, and four from Helena Vu.
Millikan will host Compton on Wednesday while Poly has a quick turnaround to host Wilson Saturday evening at 7 p.m.