GODFREY — It's no secret Incarnate Word Academy is super talented. The Alton Redbirds learned that first hand on Thursday.
The Red Knights are the two-time Missouri Class 4 state champions, are nationally ranked and have UCONN-bound McDonald's All-American Napheesa Collier to boot. On Thursday they showed off that talent by pummeling the Redbirds 75-20.
With the win IWA improved to 15-2, while Alton slipped to 5-18 on the season.
A game that was scheduled prior to Jordann Wilson's ACL injury and Jasmine Bishop's transfer out of the school district, still had value according AHS head coach Bobby Rickman. He knew it would have been an uphill battle even if the Birds were at full strength.
“The way I look at this game, it's showing our girls, our town, our program what it takes to play at that level,” Rickman said. “You can talk about it, you can watch it on film, but when you see it live in person, then you realize what it takes and that's the big difference. Those girls have worked at that level. I coached there for three years and this game was easy to them because their practices are so hard. They are motivated internally, they want to get better and they do the work every single day to get there and that's why they are at the level they are is because they work at it.
“From this experience I just hope we learn what it takes to push ourselves. That's what I took from this game.”
The highlight for the night for the Redbirds came in the final 4.6 seconds of the game when junior LaJarvia Brown reached the career benchmark of 1,000 points. Brown missed a shot late, but an Alton turnover gave her one last chance in the waning seconds as she drove to the hoop for a layup. She needed nine points on the night to reach the millenium mark in her career, she got 10, giving her 1,001 so far.
“Eight seconds left, I thought there was no hope and then Kenya (Burnett) got the steal and I was like, 'It's all or nothing. Take it in and I make it or I don't,'” Brown said. “I always have next game to get it.”
But reaching the career goal just as a junior is a huge feat for Brown, one she shares with her teammates.
“It feels good to accomplish this as a junior,” she said. “It's always been a goal, but I can't take any attention away from my teammates because without them none of it would have been possible.”
Rickman thinks Brown would have reached the milestone earlier if she wasn't asked to do so much in the tumultuous season.
“I didn't want to tell (IWA coach) Dan (Rolfes) because he would tell them she was about to score 1,000 and they would have probably tried to keep her from doing that,” Rickman said with a smile. “I'm proud for LaJarvia, she's a special girl. She's worked hard and she does everything and she's been put in the situation this year, hoping to come in and be successful and then doesn't have the supporting cast that can help her. She has to do so much. Honestly if she had some of the attention taken aware from her we would probably have three girls that were scoring a lot of points for us this year. She may have hit it four or five games ago if the situation was different.”
The situation was a tough one on Thursday for the Birds, but they hung tough early. At the 5:15 mark of the first quarter Alton only trailed 4-2 and had forced the Red Knights into a few turnovers.
But that's when IWA turned up the heat. The Red Knights went on a 19-0 run and only a late basket by AHS' Cheriena Mitchell snapped it, leaving the Redbirds behind 23-6 after one quarter.
IWA caused the Birds to cough it up 11 times in the first quarter. In the second quarter the Red Knights produced nine more turnovers and owned a 38-14 lead at the break. Their pressure was relentless. By the end of the game IWA had forced Alton into 36 turnovers.
“The staple for our basketball team is our defense and our pressure,” Rolfes said. “And scoring easy baskets off our pressure. Our kids have been doing it for a lot of years and they really buy into it.”
It helps when the Red Knights are blessed with a 6-foot-1 phenom like Collier, who can run the floor from the guard position. She creates matchup issues most teams haven't seen before.
Collier had 17 points at the break and finished with a game-high 28, all scored through three quarters. If she was defended well she was also capable of getting her teammates involved.
“She's such a well rounded player,” Rolfes said. “She can take you outside and hit a 3 or take you down low. If you double she's got long arms and can see over the double and make good passes. Defensively she gets rebounds and alters shots. For us she's a once in a lifetime player.”
Collier and IWA were definitely impressive for Brown and the Redbirds.
“They were after it and they weren't letting up, but that's what you've got to do if you want to be successful,” Brown said. “Playing against them was good for us. (Collier) is different. I've never seen anything like it, or played anything like it. It was nice being on the court with her though. She can do a bunch.”
The Red Knights continued rolling in the second half, leading 56-16 after three quarters on the way to the win.
The Redbirds will look to regroup and return to Southwestern Conference action. They next welcome Collinsville at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
INCARNATE WORD ACADEMY 75, ALTON 20
IWA 23 15 18 19 — 75
Alton 6 8 2 4 — 20
ALTON (5-18) — Megan Paulda 2, LaJarvia Brown 10, Jewel Wagner 4, Cheriena Mitchell 2, Chayvon Buckingham 2. 2FG — 9 3FG — 0 FT — 2 PF — 13
IWA (15-2) — Naomi Johnson 4, Sonya Morris 3, Katie Lacefield 8, Napheesa Collier 28, Abbey Hoff 18, Grace Fortmann 8, Nakayla Jackson-Morris 6. 2FG — 31 3FG — 3 FT — 4 PF — 10