St. Thomas Aquinas played great team defense and shared the ball on offense. That combination led the Saints to a 48-39 victory over Salina Central on Friday afternoon in the Kansas 5A girls state basketball tournament.
The win puts Aquinas, the eighth seed, in the championship game against Leavenworth at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Kansas Expocentre.
One player who came up with a few important plays was 6-foot-1 sophomore center Allison Thomas, who scored 13 points and pulled down 12 rebounds.
Thomas missed Thursday’s quarterfinals because she was in Ohio attending her grandmother’s funeral. She was glad to be back with her teammates.
“We had a lot of energy throughout the game,” Thomas said. “I’m excited we are in the championship game. We all played together as a team. We deserved it.”
Indeed. In addition to Thomas’ double-double, sophomore Sereena Weledji scored 10 points and pulled down 13 rebounds, and senior Allison Koster went 8 for 10 from the free throw line and finished with a team-high 14 points.
Late in the second quarter with the Saints trailing 15-12, Thomas made a three-point play that tied the game at 15-15. Aquinas finished up the half with a basket by Weledji followed by two free throws from freshman Alayna Townsell, giving the Saints a 19-15 halftime lead.
Aquinas, 19-5, continued to roll at the start of the third quarter. It started with a basket from Thomas and a three-pointer from Koster. The 12-0 run put the Saints ahead 24-15. The Saints held at least a five-point lead the rest of the way.
“I really enjoy playing with my team, and going forward together is just so much fun,” Weledji said. “We really wanted to win this game.”
Leavenworth 54, Bishop Carroll 36
Leavenworth’s march to a third straight Kansas 5A girls state basketball title continued Friday with a 54-36 victory over Bishop Carroll at the Kansas Expocentre.
“This means a lot,” Leavenworth coach Jordan Mellott said. “Their goal the whole summer, the whole offseason and during the season was to get back to this moment and take advantage of it. They have done a tremendous job of doing it.”
The Pioneers, 20-4, took control of the game in the third quarter. They went into halftime ahead 29-23 and only allowed Bishop Carroll to get three free throws in the third quarter. Leavenworth scored 10 points and went into the final quarter ahead 39-26.
“Defense, that was the key to everything,” Leavenworth junior guard Terrion Moore said. “We started to let up and they started to come back a little bit and then in the second half we put it back on them.”
Leavenworth used its pressure defense to prevent Bishop Carroll from finding any offensive rhythm. The Pioneers scored the first five points of the game.
Bishop Carroll responded with two straight three-pointers for its only lead of the game at 6-5. Leavenworth scored the next six points and never trailed again. In fact, the Golden Eagles never got closer than three points and that was once at 11-8.
The Golden Eagles couldn’t handle the play of guards Moore, Zoie Hayward, Alicia Brown and Destinee Robinson, and forward Skylar Young cleaned up inside.
As well as the starters played, sophomore Aarika Lister was even better, coming off the bench to lead the Pioneers in scoring with 16 points.
“She is big electricity for us,” Mellott said. “She is very athletic and made some big-time plays in big moments.”