Eighteen first-half turnovers obviously were not part of Cardinal Newman’s game plan Saturday afternoon against Northwood Academy.
“I don’t think they were doing anything special to make us turn that ball over,” first-year Cardinal Newman head coach Asia Dozier said. “We had a lot of unforced turnovers. Preparation instills confidence, and at the end of the day we needed to trust our process and know that we were ready for this moment.”
The process that offset those mistakes was a stifling defense, and the rebounding of junior post player Ashlyn Watkins.
Watkins grabbed 18 boards, blocked five shots and led all scorers with 23 points to lead Cardinal Newman to its third straight SCISA 3A state championship with a 53-43 victory over the Chargers at the Sumter County Civic Center.
“We started out rough but we came back strong,” Watkins said. “I was telling them to keep it up, that we got this, we’re still in the game. We beat them before, and we can beat them again.”
Cardinal Newman edged Northwood 57-54 on Jan. 25.
First, the Cardinals had to overcome the turnovers. Northwood worked up a 10-7 advantage after the first quarter and stretched the lead to 14-7 on baskets from Aubrielle Harris and Alayah Birch to start the second.
When Skyla Tuthill drained a 3-pointer at the 4:55 mark, Cardinal Newman finally began stringing possessions together. A 12-1 scoring run gave the Cardinals a 19-15 lead a minute before the half.
Northwood trailed 21-19 at the break, but momentum had clearly swung in the Cardinals’ favor. In the second half Cardinal Newman had just nine turnovers to the Chargers’ 10, and maintained control under the nets, outrebounding Northwood 35-15 in the game.
Taking the basketball from the Chargers evolved into Watkins shooting wherever she had to on the floor. Most of her points came inside, but she made good on a wide-open 3-pointer in the first half and 10 of her 12 second-half points came from inside and outside the lane.
Watkins opened the second half scoring with a quick layup and scored four more points in her team’s 14-point third quarter.
Northwood, which went 13 for 26 from the foul line, closed the Cardinals’ lead late in the game to 44-39, but six missed foul shots blunted the rally.
Cardinal Newman led 35-26 going into the fourth and closed out that quarter 18-17 to earn the state title. Seeing the team rebound from a bad start and still close out a double-digit win impressed Dozier.
“I walked into a good situation, a good team already, had some new pieces come and join us,” Dozier said. “It was a winning culture. They knew what it felt like. They knew what it took to get to this point, and what it took to win.”
The win was a big one for Dozier, a top player at Spring Valley High School and a USC standout. In her first year as head coach of the Cardinals, she brought another basketball highlight to the Dozier family. Father Perry and uncle Terry are USC alums who became longtime coaches with Spring Valley and other schools. Brother P.J. Dozier, another Spring Valley grad and USC alum, plays for the Denver Nuggets.
“It’s a culture that’s within me,” Dozier said. “I try to instill that in my players to love this game because it’ll love you back.”
N: Amaya Ferguson 12, Alayah Birch 10, Ambrose 7, Manigault 5, Gregory 5, Harris 4.
C: Ashlyn Watkins 23, Jacobs 8, Kennedy 6, Wilkes 4, Grant 4, Tuthill 3, Knight 3, Hogan 2.