In the past month, No. 2 Hammond has won a lot of games by small margins, and the vultures have been circling, just waiting for the upset.
Well, last night, the Golden Bears sent the vultures a message -- that upset probably will not be coming any time soon.
The Bears played some of their best basketball of the season, exploding past No. 16 Howard for a 65-52 victory in what had been a tight game for the first 25 minutes.
Rene Hines' turn-around jumper followed by Tina Wilmer's three-pointer sparked an 18-1 Bears' run that boosted Hammond's lead to 58-43 with 3:02 left.
The Bears (14-2 overall, 9-0 league) scored 23 points in the fourth quarter and hit eight of 15 shots from the field. They were hitting from outside, working the ball inside and swarming all over the Lions (9-8, 4-5) defensively.
"I felt like we had our team back tonight," said assistant coach Al Moraz, taking over for injured head coach Joe Russo.
"There is not a team out there that can stop us the way we played tonight," said point guard Tiki Nicholson. "We played good as a team, kept the momentum up, worked the ball around to everybody mainly the post players. If we do that, no question about it, we'll go back to states."
It helped to have Nicholson regain her shooting touch. The All-Metro senior had struggled with her shot for two weeks until she broke through Friday with 16 points in a win over Centennial.
Last night, Nicholson led the Bears with 18 points, to go along with nine rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Guard Tameka Harrison added 15 points, four assists and a couple steals. Inside, 6-foot-1 Hines had 15 points along with 12 rebounds while 6-0 Kellye Townsend added 11 points and seven rebounds.
The Bears' foursome proved too much for host Howard to handle for the entire game, said Lions coach Craig O'Connell.
"They have so many weapons that if somebody's off, there's always somebody else to go to," he said.
Not that the Lions played badly. Hammond only hit one more field goal than Howard, but the Bears were 13-18 from the free-throw line. The Lions were 4-for-13.