Teaneck, Highlands set for title game
Teaneck always seems to generate points in transition courtesy of its fast, trapping style. But, the way coach Shenee Clarke sees it, there’s no reason even greater numbers can’t be produced through its sets as long as it penetrates with the same level of aggressiveness it uses to defend.
Clarke knows a little something about breaking down a defense having done so through her graceful yet assertive playmaking when she ran the point as a four-year standout at Ridgefield Park, where she accumulated 1,945 points before graduating in 2000.
In position to now bestow some of her wisdom on seniors Monique Cheek and Rebecca Sparks, Clarke has groomed her two mercurial guards into an image that’s starting to resemble their coach’s playing days.
"When I was playing, my coaches always told me to attack the gaps, break the foul line and then start making your decisions,’’ Clarke said. “That’s what I’m trying to get our guards to do. Attack first and run our offense second.”
By all accounts Cheek and Sparks have absorbed her message. After a brief period of scouring the perimeter for opportunities against Paramus Catholic’s 2-3 zone, the duo opted to follow Clarke’s advice, piercing seams in the defense through their speed on the ball to get access to the paint.
Once inside, the two balanced their production with a steady follow of driving layups and well-conceived feeds to utilize the depth of a Teaneck offense that featured four players in double figures in its 70-37 victory over Paramus Catholic on Sunday in the semifinal round of the Bergen County Tournament at Ramapo College in Mahwah.
Top-seeded Teaneck (23-2), No. 4 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, advanced to the BCT final where it will meet third-seeded Northern Highlands (21-3), which got monster efforts from senior Sonya West and junior Jackie Reyneke inside to defeat second-seeded and 15th-ranked Immaculate Heart (20-3), 69-58 in the first semifinal.
That appearance in the chance can be credit in large part to the willingness of Cheek and Sparks to probe the interior through penetration. “We’re like the motors of the team,” said Cheek, who delivered 12 points and six assists. “We attacked the gaps off the dribble because after that, everything is going to open up.”
With Teaneck holding a 19-18 lead, Cheek and Sparks engineered a defining 13-0 run over a four-minute span of the second quarter that broke the contest wide open.
It began with Sparks finding 6-0 sophomore Kayla Gibbs for a turnaround followed by Cheek blasting inside to complete a confident drive. Sparks then pierced a gap to create a passing lane that enabled her to dish to Melissa Papillon for a layup and a 25-18 lead.
Cheek and Sparks continued to explore seams with each finding a path to the rim for a layup and senior Jakelle King-Gilchrist worked a pass to Gibbs, who deposited the feed, drew a foul and completed a three-point play as Teaneck (23-2) pushed its advantage to 32-18 with 2:37 showing in the half.
The balance Teaneck struck on offense through the production of Gibbs (20 points, 14 rebounds), King-Gilchrist (14 points, six rebounds), Sparks (14 points, six steals) and Cheek (12 points, six assists) was also at the root of a solid defensive performance. It limited fourth-seeded Paramus Catholic (13-12) to four field goals in the second half and held it scoreless for the closing 4:32 of the third period.
In the opening semifinal, Northern Highlands (21-3) was the beneficiary of monster efforts from the frontcourt tandem of senior Sonya West and junior Jackie Reyneke.
Reyneke dropped in 24 points despite playing a great deal of the game in foul trouble while West took some of the burden off her 6-4 junior teammate by netting a season-high 23.
Any lingering thoughts of the 5-8 West being just a complimentary piece to Reyneke were put to rest by the hustling junior forward who confidently established position underneath.
“I told her the other day how much I love playing with her,” Reyneke said of West. “She never stops and always knows what to do. She’s lefty and that’s a huge advantage for us. She had an amazing game.”
West is averaging 8.9 points per game but has raised her game in the county tournament, where she is scoring at a 16.0 average against defenses that have chosen to concentrate their post defense around containing Reyneke (14.2 ppg.).
That’s fine with West.
“When they leave me open, I’m going to look to score,” West said. “Jackie and I work well off each other. We have good chemistry.”
Senior center Raquel Scott had 28 points for Immaculate Heart , including the 1,000th of her career on her first basket of the game, while teammate Tiffany Weisbecker netted 11.
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner