IAAM A Conference championship
No. 2 McDonogh (25-1) vs. No. 5 Archbishop Spalding (19-8)
When: Saturday, 5 p.m.
Where: RAC Arena, UMBC
Coaches: Brad Rees, McDonogh; William “Bookie” Rosemond, Spalding
Last meeting: McDonogh won, 66-49, on Jan. 25
PLAYERS TO WATCH
McDonogh: G Tiersa Winder, Sr.; G Taylor Cummings, Sr.; PG Danielle Edwards, Fresh.; F Marin Kobb, Sr.; G Hannah Rees, Jr.; F Brianna Jacobs, Soph.
Spalding: F Camille Calhoun, Sr.; G Raven Makins, Sr.; G Torri Chestnut, Jr.; G Aleah Epps, Jr.; F Jade Sciafe, Jr.
KEYS TO VICTORY
McDonogh rolls into the title game on a 23-game winning streak, including two 17-point victories over the defending champion Cavaliers. The Eagles did not lose a single A Conference game this season, thanks largely to their defense.
In their Jan. 25 win over Spalding, the Eagles forced 26 turnovers with a full-court press that never let the Cavaliers settle into any kind of offense. They often win ugly, but they get a lot of easy looks off that defense, have a versatile inside-outside game and have freshman point guard Edwards whose ball-handling skills, smarts and poise make the Eagles difficult to press.
McDonogh will need another big defensive game to win itsfirst IAAM title and first championship since winning the last of four straight Association of Independent Schools titles in 1999, the year before the AIS merged with the Catholic League to form the IAAM.
"It’s going to be defense,” Rees said. “The first two times we played them our defensive effort really caused them some trouble. That’s our typical game where we just seem to hang in there and wear them down and persevere. Perseverance with this team is phenomenal. I don’t know that, in my 30 years of coaching, I’ve ever had a team that just perseveres like this.”
The Cavaliers will have to find a way to beat that defensive pressure.
Although Spalding has struggled at times this season, the Cavaliers appear to be peaking at the right moment. Two weeks ago, they lost to No. 8 St. Vincent Pallotti, 34-29, but in Thursday’s semifinal, they beat the Panthers, 61-34.
The Cavaliers had several obstacles to overcome this season after graduating four starters from the 2011 title team and adding two transfers and two freshmen. It also didn’t help to have Rosemond suspended from the first seven conference games after a violation involving the use of Spalding jerseys in summer ball.
Although they have solid 3-point shooters, the Cavaliers likely will look more to the inside, where the 6-foot Sciafe and 5-11 Calhoun could give them an advantage. The Eagles don’t have a lot of power inside, although Jacobs came off the bench for 16 points in the paint in the 60-40 semifinal win over Seton Keough.
“We took on a very tough schedule with a lot of unproven parts to the puzzle, and I think it’s made us a better team,” Rosemond said. “It would be great to be 25-0, but I think we’re kind of like the New York Giants. They lost to the Redskins twice, and everyone wrote them off. Then they got hot at the right time and all anyone remembers is the Giants are the Super Bowl champs.”