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In the early stages of non-league play, Southridge didn't take on an Oregon opponent, preferring to practice and partake in one elite out-of-state tournament out in Oahu in search of equatable competition.
While most schools slate four or five non-conference opponents to get their feet wet, the Skyhawks were selective in who they faced, choosing to focus on themselves and save their best for the best, if you will.
After Southridge's squashing of the Nike Interstate Shootout field last week you can understand why. The Skyhawks, as it currently stands in January, have no in-state competition.
No. 1 Southridge clocked Clackamas 56-29 in the semifinals of the NIS on Friday and then came back on Saturday and smoked Desert Oasis (Nev.) in the tournament final, 71-43. The defending Class 6A state champions, with the most talented, well-balanced starting five around, have won its six games against Oregon opponents by an average of 38 points with their lone loss coming to Centennial (NV). Cameron Brink, Maggie Freeman, McKelle Meek and Natalie Hoff already have one state championship. Two titles feel virtually certain. What's best is the Hawks aren't shying away from the expectations. They've welcomed the burden of being the defending champ, only they want more.
"We're on a mission," Southridge senior wing Maggie Freeman said. "We want to repeat. Every game is a statement this year. A big goal of ours is to go undefeated. We lost in Hawaii, but that's ok. We don't want to lose the rest of the season. It's not easy, especially being the state champions from last year. But, we know what it takes. We know the hard work we have to put in to do that."
Clackamas, ranked No. 3 in the Class 6A power rankings, beat La Salle — the last Oregon school to defeat Southridge — in the NIS quarters. No. 2 Oregon City, who was drubbed by Southridge in the 6A state title game a year ago, was ousted by Desert Oasis in the NIS semis.
Not that it matters much. Barring injury or some random unforeseen setback, Southridge has no peer on state soil. Brink scored 24 points against Clackamas and looks even better than she was a year ago. Freeman made three three-pointers in the first half versus the Cavaliers. Southridge shot out to a 6-0 in the first minute against Clackamas, converting turnovers into hoops with perpetual fullcourt pressure. Brink flipped an underhanded scoop pass to Freeman who swished a right-wing three. Freeman discarded a Cavalier defender with a good, hard right-handed shove, took a step back and swished a deep right-winged three in front of the Clackamas bench to extend Southridge's lead to 15-6 at the end of the first.
Together, Brink and Freeman is the best inside-out combo in any classification and proved as such in the first half against Clackamas.
Brink scored 12 of her game-high 24 in the second quarter, displaying a carefully crafted, silvery shooting touch both around the field throw line and in the short corner against Clackamas' 2-3 zone. And the rest of her ready-made game was naturally exceptional. On one play Brink grabbed a defensive board, pushed the ball into the front court and fired a frozen rope pass to Natalie Hoff for two to give Southridge a 32-12 lead.
"I just took what the defense gave me," Brink said. "I had the mid-range open, I had the baseline open against their zone. I took more shots than usual, but it worked out."
Clackamas tried to use a 2-3 zone designed to take away Natalie Hoff and Brink inside. But both posts are so skilled and such willing passers that the scheme ultimately was rendered hopeless. If the Cavaliers sent two defenders to guard the Skyhawk bigs, they'd simply shuttle the ball around the perimeter and find the open player. Often, the beneficiary was Freeman. A southpaw sniper with one of the silkiest jumpers you'll see, Freeman caught fire in the first half, burying three of four triples, all from the right wing.
"We want to score every possession," Brink said. "If we move the ball, reverse it, get from the paint to the outside, we can pick teams apart. (Freeman, Meek, Maya Hoff) make the game a lot easier because the post becomes wide open."
Teams will throw zone defenses at Brink all day, which means shooters like Meek and Freeman will get clear looks at the rim with minor defensive pressure around them.
"I love zone," Freeman said with a smile. "We were just clicking. We were getting wide open shots and those are hard to miss. If you make the zone move, then it picks it apart because you can't guard everybody at the same time. You hit the high post, they're going to double, maybe triple (Brink or Hoff) because our posts are great and they'll kick it out and we'll hit threes."
Southridge, with so many scoring threats and possible double-digit scorers on the floor at the same time, can be downright indefensible. Clackamas had no counter. Few programs do.
"We were shooting out of our minds," Brink said with a smile. "It was just an exciting game to play and good basketball. We came in focused, we moved the ball around and got people open. We've been playing for each other for a long time. We all want each other to succeed, so we all share the ball. We're all really unselfish, so it's really fun to play with them."
Opponents have to pick their poison with Southridge. Either take away the paint and hope the Skyhawks miss from deep or limit the three-point line looks and live with Brink and Hoff having their way down low. Freeman drew a double team and passed out of the post to Meek for a left corner three. Then the southpaw ran off a well-designed double pick and drilled another right-wing trey.
Southridge held Clackamas to just four made field goals in the first half while checking the Cavaliers with 10 takeaways to grab a 38-12 halftime advantage.
"Ball pressure creates turnovers and that's what we did," Freeman said. "We wanted to take away open shots. We knew what we were going to do and know what it takes to win. We asserted our knowledge and it showed on the court."
In the third quarter Brink swatted two-handed block and raced to the other end for a hoop. Maya Hoff made a sensational coast-to-coast drive, swerving through Cavalier defenders, swiveling around her own teammates and finished with her left hand at the buzzer to give Southridge a 50-20 lead at the end of three. Maya Hoff, a promising freshman who's taken the place of graduated senior Kaelin Immel in the starting lineup, is another talented player coming along nicely alongside her state champion teammates. In an arsenal crammed of artillery, the young shooting guard is another high-quality option.
"Everybody on the floor is a weapon whether they're coming off of the bench or they're a starter," Freeman said. "You can't stop everybody at the same time. You can double (team), but we'll pass the ball and have another right there waiting for you."