Everything South Shore did before the holidays came with a caveat. There was the one-point win over Francis Lewis, the abominable fourth-quarter performance against Teaneck (N.J.). None of those happened with sophomore sharpshooter Aliyah Cooley on the court.
“We always said after games and practices ‘and this is without Cooley, and this is without Cooley,’” Vikings coach Anwar Gladden said. “We always knew we were missing her.”
She was so valuable to South Shore and she wanted to come back so badly that Cooley returned in early December – too early after a preseason sports hernia. With that late start, the 6-foot wing is just now rounding into midseason form.
Cooley had eight of her 11 points in the final nine minutes of South Shore’s 67-36 win over Curtis in The Mecca Challenge girls basketball event Sunday at Gauchos Gym in the Bronx. She beat the third-quarter buzzer with the layup and showed off the sweet stroke that makes her one of the top young players in New York City in the fourth quarter. Before she got going, South Shore led just 38-30 with 1:13 left in the third.
“She spreads the defense,” Gladden said. “[Jasmine] Odom and [Tatiana] Wilson can penetrate and her man can’t help. She’s facing teams’ third best defender. If they do help, we’re kicking it to her. If they don’t help, Jaz and Titi have shown the ability to get to the basket.”
Cooley is also playing this season with a different outlook after suffering for more than a month without being able to join her team on the court.
“I feel thankful I’m able to play basketball again, because you never know what could happen,” she said. “You gotta play every game like it’s your last.”
Wilson led the Vikings with 18 points in one of her best performances lately, junior wing Jenice Winter had 16 points and Odom added nine. Ayo Adedapo had 15 points and Dana Gildea had eight for a very game Curtis squad that stayed with South Shore for three quarters. Part of the reason for that, Gladden said, was a tight game against powerhouse St. John Vianney (N.J.) on Saturday at Gauchos. The Vikings’ depth took over late.
“We turned it up,” Gladden said. “We woke up. We looked like we played sleeping [in the first half]. We had a tough, physical game yesterday and had to come back this morning. It’s not acceptable, but I’m just saying.”
South Shore will head into the upcoming PSAL Class AA playoffs as the No. 2 seed. And with victories over St. Anthony’s (L.I.) and Mary Louis and a close loss to Vianney, the Vikings look like one of the strongest candidates in a long time to end Murry Bergtraum’s 12-year run atop the league. Not that Gladden and his squad is completely satisfied with how they are playing right now, which is without starting big Fannisha Price (personal reasons).
“I think defensively we can do better things, like more talking,” Wilson said. “Anwar stresses it a lot. We just have to do it better going into the playoffs. We need to communicate more as a team.”
It’s a team that is completely whole with a healthy, in shape Cooley back stroking jumpers.
“We can’t afford to not have her out there,” Gladden said.