Veteran Mountain View girls basketball coach Connie Skogrand rescued Naya Ojukwu before the game. Then the 6-foot freshman rescued the Mavericks’ undefeated season.
Ojukwu took over the fourth quarter of the 5A District 3 championship game Friday, scoring 10 of her game-high 16 points down the stretch to lead Mountain View to a 46-34 win over Eagle, the two-time defending district champ.
The win preserved No. 1 Mountain View’s perfect record (23-0) and clinched it the top seed at next week’s 5A state tournament. It opens the tournament at 6:15 p.m. Thursday against the winner of Saturday’s play-in game between Meridian (13-12) and Post Falls (7-17).
Ojukwu added 10 rebounds to complete the double-double at Timberline High. The performance seemed impossible 15 minutes before the game when, through tears, she informed Skogrand she forget her white shorts. But the Mavericks’ 16th-year coach fetched the extra uniform set she always keeps in her car and calmed the athletic freshman.
“She saves me all the time,” Ojukwu said.
[Related: Full 5A state tournament bracket]
The moment shook the 15-year-old and forced Mountain View to alter its starting lineup. Ojukwu didn’t return until seven minutes before tipoff. But once she set foot on the floor, she continued to dominate the paint like she has all season.
“I had to give her an opportunity to compose herself, and she did,” Skogrand said. “These are all new experiences for her. She was pretty jacked and ready to play. And when things don’t go just right, inexperienced kids have a tendency to get emotional. They have to learn to come back down, stay within the game, do what we do well and they’re going to be alright.”
Eagle (19-5) entered the fourth quarter with a one-point lead, but Mountain View mounted a 12-0 run to pull away as it fed Ojukwu in the paint. She scored 10 points herself during the run with an array of putbacks, low-post moves and cuts into the paint from the wing.
“It’s amazing that a freshman can do this,” said Mountain View senior Darian White, who finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and three assists. “It’s something that I’ve never played with before.”
Mountain View heads into next week’s state tournament with a shot at history. No 5A girls basketball team has finished the season undefeated since Coeur d’Alene went 25-0 in 2009. And no 5A team from the Treasure Valley has mounted a perfect season since Meridian won its fourth straight title and 80th consecutive game in 1983.
But Mountain View doesn’t have to look any further than the other side of the court Friday for a cautionary tale. Eagle entered last year’s state tournament undefeated and ranked No. 25 in the nation before falling to Post Falls in the championship game.
“We have to stay (focused) like we just lost a couple games, like we’re not undefeated,” White said. “We have to think that somebody is better than us and everybody has a chance. We have to take everything so seriously.”
No. 3-ranked Eagle already clinched a state tournament berth before Friday. With the loss, it faces second-ranked Lake City (20-3) in the first round at 1:15 p.m. Thursday at the Ford Idaho Center.