McPhee’s records not enough; Mount Rainier girls fall to Gonzaga Prep

Staff writerMarch 8, 2014 

It seems unfair that Mount Rainier High School’s Brittany McPhee will leave the prep ranks without a Class 4A state girls championship.

The closest she came was Saturday – in Gonzaga Prep’s 53-51 come-from-behind victory over the Rams at the Tacoma Dome.

In every conversation – on everyone’s short list – the senior forward for Mount Rainier should be mentioned among the greatest scorers of Washington high school basketball, which includes Garfield’s Joyce Walker and Lakes’ Kate Starbird.

Her 2,815 career points put her past Starbird (2,753), and are thought to be the most in state history.

Her 28 points (and 19 rebounds and five blocked shots) Saturday also gave her 268 points in 11 games in the 4A tournament, which eclipsed the previous career mark of 257, set by University’s Angie Bjorklund. All of it will be nice to reflect upon someday, she said. But true to her soft-spoken nature, the Stanford-bound star whispered, “I’d trade it” for a 4A title.

Well into the second half, the fourth-ranked Rams were beating the state’s No. 1 team in pretty much every way. McPhee was terrorizing whichever defender tried to stop her in man-to-man defense. They forced 14 turnovers through three quarters.

And they held a commanding 43-31 lead with 4:38 remaining in the third quarter.

So Gonzaga Prep coach Mike Arte decided to do something rarely done around the Greater Spokane League’s championship program. He threw a zone defense on the Rams.

“We don’t play zone defense. We don’t teach it. We run it in practice against our zone offense,” Arte said. “And our zone defense saved us.”

It not only slowed down the Rams almost entirely in the fourth quarter, it created doubt. Nobody except McPhee seemed to want to make a play or take a shot. Mount Rainier made just two of 13 shots in the final eight minutes.

“When it got close, you could see them tightening up,” Arte said.

And the Bullpups crept all the way back, taking a 50-49 lead on Otiona Gildon’s putback basket with 2:16 remaining.

The big stage is usually where McPhee flourishes. She hit the game-winning shot with 16 seconds to go in the Rams’ semifinal victory. But in the fourth quarter Saturday, she made just one of five field-goal attempts.

“Nobody else wanted to finish,” McPhee said.

The Rams cut it to 52-51 on Kaiti Freeberg’s inside bucket with 19 seconds to go. But then they were in a dire situation – they needed to foul four times to get Gonzaga Prep (26-1) in the bonus.

“We didn’t have enough fouls to put them on the (free-throw) line,” Mount Rainier coach Bob Bolam said. “We had to go for steals, and we were close twice. Then we had to foul ... as quickly as we could.”

It took 16 seconds for the Rams (25-4) to commit the four fouls necessary to put Gonzaga Prep’s Hannah Caudill on the free throw line. She made the first one, but the Bullpups were called for a lane violation on the second one, giving the Rams one final possession.

Jordan McPhee took the inbound pass, dribbled inside the midcourt line and got off a final heave that was on target, but fell a few inches short of the rim.

“We played a great game,” Bolam said.

Indeed the Rams did, giving the state’s best squad all it could handle. But the end result still left them without an elusive first 4A crown, and a deserving Brittany McPhee in tears.

“They were an amazing team,” Caudill said of the Rams. “But we just got it done in the end.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442; todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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