HOOP SCOOP: Big 2 became the Big 3 in MSJC’s JUCO championship … Brown tourney MVP, Thomas all-tournament, Gower ignored in final tabulation … Mt. SAC’s successful coach funnels buy-in recipe … Mozga gets coveted title.

There seemed to be a little surprise that Kaila Gower had taken control of Mt. San Jacinto College’s scoring load in the Lady Eagles’ March 11 California Community College Athletic Association championship against Merced College.

MSJC pulled off an 81-52 title game triumph at Ventura College.

Gower’s 27-point output was supported by Britney Thomas’ 22 points. Another 15 points came up from speed-burning tournament MVP Delacy Brown.

It wasn’t a question of who did the scoring, though.

It was really a question of who wasn’t scoring.

The Lady Eagles, who finished their season with two losses – both to conference rival Palomar College-San Marcos – held the Lady Blue Devils scoreless through the first 8:14 of third quarter action. This game was close at halftime, 35-33.

Scoreless, as in zero points. Not even a free throw! In a championship game?

Merced’s bench leadership was going nuts trying to figure a way to crack MSJ.

Gower was playing defense. Brown and Thomas were monsters against Merced’s attack. A half-step ahead. Hustling down court. Aggressive. Blocking out. Merced couldn’t penetrate.

MSJC’s coach Chriz Moga doesn’t sit around his MSJC office enjoying teaching tenure. You get the impression he’s watching video. Pondering various lineup combinations. Scheming out a practice plan. Calling rival coaches for scouting info. Game-planning for the likes of College of the Sequoia, Sierra College, plus Merced.

In that decisive third period, Mozga kept inserting kids like Alysssa Walton and Octavia Williams, plus Marissa Williams and Geneza Rose Manlulu – alternating with starters Madeline Morrow and Carla Johnson, Gower, Brown and Thomas.

He wasn’t sticking them in to be sportsmanlike, either. He was looking for plays.

Perennial state power Mt. San Antonio (Walnut) College coach Brian Crichlow (215-22 record, 4 State titles over 8 seasons) sounded off about state championship-level performances.

“It’s got to be a total buy-in,” said Crichlow, whose Mt. SAC team beat MSJC in the 2013 finals. “(Players) can’t pick and choose when they’re going to stay with the game plan. You can’t pick and choose when you want to dominate.”

Starting with Mozga, the trickle-down effect included Thomas and Brown, Gower and Johnson, plus Morrow, Manlulu, Walton and the Williamses.

“It’s on and off the court,” said Crichlow. “It’s 100 percent. In the film room. At practice.”

Said Crichlow: “Games become a lot easier when you do that. It’s a year-round process. In this case, (MSJ) has been preparing for two years.”

Mozga said, moments after the game, “We put our kids into tough situations every day in practice.”

If not for a 3-pointer with 1:14 left in the third quarter – women’s collegiate games are four quarters, incidentally – Merced wouldn’t have scored.

Thomas’ blocked shot at one end led to her finishing off the play with a layup at the other end – a total all-tournament moment.

Johnson came up with a rebound of a Merced miss.

Gower kept a ball alive on the offensive glass.

Morrow drove for a layup.

Gower hit a layup, then followed in a missed shot. Brown nailed a 3-pointer.

Basket on a Thomas-to-Gower feed.

Thomas scored on an inbounds pass.

Ranae Lasley’s 3-pointer on a set play – hiding behind Thomas on an inbounds design – made it 55-36 after three periods. That fourth quarter was for the scorekeepers.

Good luck scoring on the Lady Eagles. MSJC’s defense is a load to handle. Said Mozga: “We spend more time in practice on defense and rebounding than we do anything else.”

Mozga might be the best-kept coaching secret throughout California. Records dating back from last season: 26-5, 30-2, 24-6, 23-7, 30-3, 23-8 and, well, you get the idea.

On an afternoon when the Big Two became the Big Three, counting Gower, you heard Thomas respond moments afterward.

“People forget about Kaila. She’s got a post (inside) game and she can go outside and score. Other teams don’t really have a game plan for Kaila.”

Yes. We know!


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