Nazareth understands its most important meeting with Christ the King could come in mid-March, but that doesn’t change the way the team feels when it steps on the court against the Royals — whether CK All-American Bria Smith was playing or not.
“We still wanted to take their heads off,” junior guard Darius Faulk said.
She and her teammates didn’t do that, but they did start the process of taking Christ the King’s titles away. The Lady Kingsmen defeated CK, 45-33, in a CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Division I girls basketball first-place tiebreaker game on Feb. 23 at St. Francis Prep. It gives Nazareth the regular season crown and breaks Christ the King’s streak of 27 consecutive titles.
“It’s a big rivalry,” junior forward Taylor Ford said. “Anytime we beat them it’s a big thing.”
Ford led the way with 12 points, Faulk had 10 and Tiffany Jones and Brianna Sidney each added seven for the Lady Kingsmen, ranked No. 15 in the country by USA Today. Nia Oden, Sierra Calhoun and Amanni Fernandez each scored eight points for Christ the King.
“When they get going they are unstoppable,” Lady Kingsmen assistant coach Lauren Best said of Ford and Jones.
The Royals, the defending state Federation Class AA champion, were without Smith (knee), who was sat out by CK coach Bob Mackey for precautionary reasons. Smith scored 31 points in a 74-57 win over Nazareth on Feb. 5 after Nazareth took the first meeting in early December. The win earns Naz the Brooklyn/Queens top seed in its upcoming tournament and CHSAA Class AA state tournament. CK will be No. 2 in both.
“Our kids just look at it as a game,” Best said. “It’s time to take care of business, Bria or no Bria. We were ready to go.”
They had to play without head coach Apache Paschall, who was serving a school suspension for breaking a media gag order on his pending recruiting investigation in a sitdown interview last week. Star freshman Bianca Cuevas also did not play. Paschall said the decision was made to sit her out after learning Smith was not playing “so it’s even.”
It certainly didn’t appear that way on the court. Nazareth went on an 18-0 run over the second and third quarters and held Christ the King, which shot 12-of-25 from the free throw line, scoreless for 7:50 during that stretch. Jones and Ford dominated the offensive glass and Faulk turned steals in the scores. The Lady Kingsmen clamped down on defense and kept CK out of the lane.
“That’s a normal stretch that’s what we usually do,” Ford said. “But when we played Christ the King the last time we had a 7-0 run and we couldn’t play defense. … If we played that defense when we played the last game we would have won no matter what.”
Christ the King did make a valiant effort, sparked by the aggressiveness of Fernandez. The Royals got within 41-30 with 1:21 left in the game thanks to an 8-0 run that included six straight points from Oden. Ford answered with a short jumper in the lane that prompted a fist pump.
“This wasn’t like a big, big, big game,” Ford said. “I just think this was a game that set the tone for the playoffs.”