Class A semifinals: Marian overwhelms King
East Lansing — The Birmingham Marian-Detroit King rematch didn't live up to its hype, leaving Marian a step closer to repeating as Class A state champions for the first time in program history.
The Class A state semifinal game Friday afternoon at the Breslin Center was a rematch of Marian's 50-49 win over King in the Operation Friendship game last month when Kara Holinski made a 10-footer with 15 seconds left for the difference.
Marian — ranked No. 9 nationally by USA Today — wouldn't need a comeback in this one, using its fullcourt zone press and halfcourt trapping defense to force 22 turnovers in a dominating 57-37 victory.
Marian (25-1) will play DeWitt (25-1) for the championship Saturday at noon.
King (24-2) led for a total of 2 minutes and 22 seconds, all coming in the first quarter.
Marian led 11-9 after one, forcing six turnovers. Then, it increased the pressure to take a 26-15 halftime lead, pushing King's turnovers up to 14. The Mustangs opened a 15-point lead (40-25) after three quarters with King's turnover total to 20.
The Mustangs were also getting into the passing lanes to force turnovers and getting to the majority of the 50-50 balls with hustle plays.
"They came to play today and I'm very proud of them," said Marian coach Mary Cicerone, who guided the Marian to three straight Class A state title game appearances from 1996-'98, coming away with the ultimate trophy in '96 and '98, but falling to Grand Rapids Christian in '97.
Six-foot sophomore Samantha Thomas, the hero in last year's state championship run, again played well, scoring 12, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking several shots while going up against King's frontline of 6-3 senior Leah Mathis and 6-2 Malaysia McHenry.
"We don't expect nothing less from Sam," said Cicerone of Thomas. "She's not soft."
No, Thomas isn't soft, instead playing an attacking, physical style like the rest of her teammates.
Senior guard Jaeda Robinson scored 15, eight in the fourth quarter. Senior forward Brittany Gray had 14 points and said Marian's "Mustang press" was the difference.
"We call it (zone press) the Mustang and we were a lot more confident with that and they really struggled against it," Gray said. "It's where we anticipate where the ball's going and we trap and do everything. I think we were a lot more aggressive today. We went more fullcourt with it, really got on them today and they weren't expecting it."
King coach William Winfield said Marian made adjustments from the first time the teams played and Cicerone came in with a good game plan.
"I've known her for a long time and they had a good game plan," said Winfield, who guided King to five state championships and its first semifinal appearance since 2006 when the school won its last title. "They were a little bit more aggressive (than first game) and they took us out of what we wanted to do.
"They put a lot of pressure on my point guard (Alicia Norman) and any time you take the point guard out of the game you have problems. We were starting our offense out at the halfcourt line and we have to have her at the three-point line and it didn't happen. Then, (in the halfcourt set) they were playing man and cutting the pass off to the wing."
Miss PSL, King senior guard Janae Williams scored 18 and McHenry had 10, but was limited to four points after the first quarter. King shot 25.6 percent from the field and made just 4-of-18 three-pointers.
Marian used a 9-2 run to start the second quarter to take a 20-11 advantage, forcing a half dozen turnovers in the first five minutes of the quarter.
Marian's defense caused a lot of the turnovers with the trap, but Holinski and Gray also forced turnovers by getting into the passing lanes on King's entry passes to Mathis and McHenry.
It was also in the second quarter that Marian displayed outstanding ball movement, getting the ball into several players hands in rapid fashion before Holinski's 3-pointer for a 18-11 lead before Holinski's pass inside to 6-1 sophomore Elizabeth Grobbel for a 20-11 lead.
Marian opened up a 30-15 lead in the opening minutes of the second half with Gray scoring on a 10-footer and Thomas off a putback while King continued to turn the ball over, first on an over-and-back call, then a travel by Williams when double-teamed inside.