The new-look Clovis West girls basketball team was put to an early test in its own Nike Central Valley Showdown, and only a rough second half kept the Golden Eagles from passing with flying colors.
After breezing through the first three games, including a tough Valley Christian team from San Jose in the semifinals earlier in the day, the Golden Eagles took on Rufus King from Wisconsin in the championship game and fell 73-69 after holding a 39-34 lead at halftime.
Rufus King hails from Milwaukee and is currently the No. 1 team in Wisconsin.
“It’s frustrating to lose but they’re probably going to win the Wisconsin state championship,” Clovis West coach Craig Campbell said of the team who went 25-1 last year, their only loss in the state championship game. “But big picture – it’s not a bad loss, but there’s a lot of little things to consistency do to win at this level.”
Replacing five Division I seniors from last year’s CIF State Open championship team that went 34-2 is certainly a herculean task, and this year’s edition will lean heavily on multi-faceted junior Madison Campbell, fellow juniors Champney Pulliam and Aari Sanders and a mix of underclassmen, most notably five freshmen, three of which will see significant playing time.
Campbell, the daughter of Campbell who holds multiple Division I college scholarships poured in a career high 31 against Valley Christian, was forced to sit out the rest of the half after picking up three fouls in the first quarter, the third one controversial after Campbell was thrown to the ground after having her elbow locked up by a Rufus King player.
Still, Clovis West led 20-18.
Clovis West outscored Rufus King 19-16 on the second with Campbell on the bench behind the shooting of Pulliam, the solid play from three freshman: Alexa Silva, Justyce Harris and Nikki Tom and the defense of Sanders.
The second half would not prove as kind as the Golden Eagles had a tough time containing a pair of talented juniors in tournament MVP Kaye Clark (23 points) and 6-foot-4 Sydney Roby (23) underneath and were outscored 25-14 in a pivotal third quarter.
“The foul trouble obviously with Maddie turned us into a totally different team, but our team showed resiliency and a lot of kids grew up,” Campbell said. “But the challenge is – can they stay that way moving forward?”
Pulliam led the team with 17 points followed by Tom’s 14 and Sanders’ 13. Campbell was held to a season low nine points and eventually fouled out on a controversial offensive foul with her team down 67-71 and 3:24 left in the game.
It was Clovis West’s first loss on the season after starting with four wins. In fact, it’s their first loss as a program since Jan. 16 against Centennial of Nevada at the Martin Luther King Showcase in Stockton – a span of 23 games.
And how exactly did Rufus King find their way to Fresno? The story goes that a couple of assistant coaches started following Clovis West on social media during their amazing run last year and coach Craig Machut called Campbell during the spring, asking if they could play in their tournament. He quickly obliged.
Their trip was a time away from the cold of Wisconsin to check out the warmer west coast and the beautiful scenery of Yosemite and of course, In-N-Out Burger. And a couple of fun facts about Wisconsin girls basketball: they play 18 minute halves instead of quarters and do not have a shot clock.
“They are ridiculously good and we wanted to get up and down with them,” said Machut about Clovis West. “The team that beat us in the state championship last year is very similar to Clovis West and this game was like a primer for that game. I wanted to see how they would respond.
“We were able to make a run in the second half and we were able to quit allowing them to bait us in their cross court passes. We adjusted.”
Clovis West next travels to the Elite Showcase at Laney College (Dec. 8-9) before coming home to face Sacred Heart on Dec. 12.
Clovis North placed third in the tournament, beating Valley Christian 65-40 and landed Jordyn Brown and Rowan Hein on the All-Tournament team. For Clovis West it was Campbell, Pulliam and Sanders who earned the honors.
Sports Editor Paul Meadors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @paulmeadors