Sacred Heart: Staying cool under pressure 

She started out 0-for-4 and ended up just 6-for-20, watching as short shots somehow caught a piece of the rim and rattled out and deep jumpers missed the target.

But when the Sacred Heart Cathedral girls’ basketball team desperately needed some offense in the CIF Division III state title game, there was no doubt Jazmine Jackson would find the net.

With the Irish in danger of falling behind by double-digits to Bishop Amat early in the second quarter, the junior forward buried two 3-pointers within a one-minute span to keep her team in the game. In the second half, she began taking the ball to the basket, scoring on three layups and making nine of 10 free-throw attempts (including going 5-of-6 in overtime), to finish with 25 points and lead Sacred Heart to a 60-54 overtime win for its second straight state title.

It was a fitting finale in a season full of clutch performances for Jackson, The Examiner’s Player of the Year for the second year in a row.

"Her outside shooting has gotten even better, her leadership skills have improved and she’s become one of our top defenders," Irish coach Brian Harrigan said. "She really has a complete game. And it’s scary to think she’s only getting better."

There’s little doubt Jackson could have averaged significantly more than 11.5 points per game this season for Sacred Heart (32-2), but her commitment to the team game helped the Irish continue their great run. And Jackson was always on point when the stakes were highest. Beginning with a 21-point effortagainst Notre Dame of Belmont in the Central Coast Section semifinals, the 5-foot-9½ forward averaged 18.5 points over her team’s last six games and led the Irish to the CCS, NorCal and state championships.

"I know I have to step up my game [in the clutch] because my teammates look up to me," Jackson said. "It’s tough sometimes and I may not look nervous, but I am. I just try to think of positive things."

Sacred Heart (which finished the year ranked No. 17 nationally by USA Today) is 63-4 over the past two seasons and shows no signs of slowing down. The team will return eight of the nine players who saw action in the state title game, including fellow stars Lauren Bell, Ki-Ki Moore and Tierra Rogers. So while Jackson is currently fielding offers from Division I schools including Hawaii and Boise State, she is in no hurry to move on.

"We’ve been playing together for so long now, we’re so close," said Jackson, who got her hoops start as a fourth-grader at Mission Rec along with a number of her teammates. "It’s a lot of fun."

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: JAZMINE JACKSON

» STATISTICS: 11.5 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game, 4.5 assists per game

» WHAT PEOPLE DON’T KNOW: Mom Trina was a two-time All-America basketball player at San Francisco State

» DREAM JOB: Veterinarian

» FAVORITE ATHLETE: Carmelo Anthony

THE OTHER FIRST-TEAMERS

JAKKIE BOKA-TIMMERBERG

» STATISTICS: 14.5 points, 11.2 rebounds per game

» COLLEGE PLAN: Will play basketball at USF

» DREAM JOB: Playing overseas. "I don’t know what would be more ideal than that."

» WHAT PEOPLE DON’T KNOW: Has studied Irish dance for eight years

If you thought Boka-Timmerberg was impressive this season, imagine what she could do with two good ankles.

The senior forward hurt her left ankle during a dominating 25-point, 15-rebound performance against Crystal Springs Uplands on Jan. 17, an injury that forced her to the bench for two weeks. Despite never regaining full health and rarely practicing, she returned to help Urban clinch the BCL West regular-season title and reach the second round of the NCS D-V playoffs. The 6-footer should be back at full strength this fall when she brings her all-around game to USF.

"She’s always had great talent," coach Andy Schroeder said. "And she grew to be a leader and the nucleus of the team."

NICOLE CANEPA

» STATISTICS: 12.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg

» SUPERSTITION: Eats Skittles before every game

» WHAT PEOPLE DON’T KNOW: Loves cats and has two, Betsy and George

» BASKETBALL DREAM: To dunk in a game

Coaches dream about their best players doubling as their hardest-working pupil and that’s the scenario Mike Mulkerrins inherited with the Oregon-bound Canepa in his first year leading the St. Ignatius varsity.

"She has a huge heart — she wouldn’t be going to Oregon without that inner desire and work ethic," Mulkerrins said. "One of the things I could always depend on this year was Nicole working hard and leading the team."

The 6-4 center was more than capable of dominating games in quantifiable categories such as points, rebounds and assists. But her presence alone was enough to force most teams to alter their game plans and settle for outside shots.

KI-KI MOORE

» STATISTICS: 7 ppg, 5 rpg, 5 apg

» FAVORITE SUBJECT: Math

» FAVORITE ATHLETE: Kobe Bryant

» SEASON HIGHLIGHTS: Winning the state championship, sweeping Mitty and St. Ignatius

Just when it seemed Moore had shown all the ways she can beat you, the sophomore unveiled something new in crunch time of the Division III state championship game.

Twice in overtime against taller Bishop Amat, the 5-7½ point guard snuck into the lane for putbacks on offensive rebounds, helping the Irish to their second straight state title. She finished the game with 16 points, eight rebounds and four steals. And all year long, she kept her teammates happy with her well-timed and perfectly delivered passes.

"Words can’t explain how good she is," teammate Jazmine Jackson said. "She’s such an unselfish player who can really do everything on the court."

TIERRA ROGERS

» STATISTICS: 8.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 4.5 apg

» FAVORITE SUBJECT: English

» FAVORITE ATHLETE: Ivory Latta, Allen Iverson

» WHAT PEOPLE DON’T KNOW: "I’m very goofy, the class clown."

The 5-foot-9 sophomore has the kind of dazzling all-around skills that have already drawn attention from Division I colleges. But what impressed Sacred Heart coach Brian Harrigan the most about Rogers was her ability to come up big in the clutch even when her shot was off. After struggling for the first three quarters of the state championship game, Rogers converted a 3-point play in the final seconds to force overtime. In the NorCal final, she shot just 2-for-12, but had a key basket, steal and assist late in a 67-66 win over Sacramento.

"That’s the sign of a complete player — when one area of their game is struggling, they can always do something else to help you win," Harrigan said. "Only great players can have an off night and still come through when it counts."

COACH OF THE YEAR: AKI KUWADA

» YEARS: Two at Lowell after 13 at Wallenberg

» CAREER RECORD: 53-12 at Lowell

» EDUCATION: San Jose State

» PROFESSION: Works as an administrator in the cargo department at Delta Airlines

» FAMILY: Married, wife Harumi, son Chris, 32, and daughter Jackie, 27

» MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Winning back-to-back championships, being named the CIF model coach (2004-2005)

» BIGGEST CHALLENGE: "Trying to make the young ladies understand the City championship is wonderful, but it’s not the final goal."

» BASKETBALL PHILOSOPHY: "I don’t care about the talent. If you show me the effort, you’ll play."

Kuwada knew life would be different for the Cardinals this season following the graduation of AAA Player of the Year Jazmin Holmes.

But Lowell’s second-year coach made sure his encore at the school was even better than his debut, leading the Cardinals to a 30-3 record and a second straight San Francisco Section title.

"We stressed to the girls that we didn’t have Jazmin to do the bulk of the scoring anymore," Kuwada said. "To overcome that, we had to work extra on defense and they really got after it."

Kuwada made some key adjustments that helped the team thrive, playing more man-to-man defense and cuttingloose his fast, aggressive guards to trap and hector the opposing offense. When the Cardinals had the ball, they looked inside to the strong post play of Anna Bukareva, Angelina Clay and Jessi Miao — their biggest advantage in the guard-heavy AAA.

The results speak for themselves — Lowell outscored its opponents by an average of 17.5 points per game on its way to compiling a 13-1 league record and dominated rival Washington 55-30 in the section final. The Cardinals finally lost 59-34 to Kennedy of Sacramento in the first round of the NorCal Division I playoffs.

melliser@examiner.com

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