The Kennedy High School girls basketball team has not reached this point on talent alone. In fact, it's another "T" word that tells the tale of its success this playoff season: Trust.
The Cougars played the final 1:20 of a pressure-packed Northern California Division I first-round game Wednesday without standout junior Lynette Johnson and gutted out a 52-49 win over Castlemont of Oakland.
With the score tied 43-43 with just under four minutes to play, sophomore guard Jessica Lauderdale hit two free throws to give the Cougars (24-8) a two-point edge.
"I get nervous sometimes," Lauderdale said after the game. "But I always feel like I can do it because I've got all these girls behind me helping me out. We all trust each other."
Several possessions later, Lauderdale stepped in front of Castlemont's Tynisha Adams, set her feet, and took a charge, denying the Lady Knights of an easy layup attempt. On the ensuing trip down the floor, Lauderdale hit the Cougars' lone three-pointer of the second half to put them up by five points.
"Everyone on the team has a certain skill set," Kennedy coach Dave Parsh said. "And the five on the floor at any one time know each other well enough to take advantage of those skills."
Castlemont (16-12) got its deficit to 48-47 and appeared ready to pounce when Johnson fouled out.
"I was really disappointed to be out, but I couldn't show it," Johnson said. "I had to stay positive and let them know that I believed in them."
Her sub, senior swing Mele Kolokihakaufisi, hit a spinning circus shot in the lane with 30 seconds left for what proved to be the winning margin. Senior forward Amayla Greer hit both of her free throws with 5.7 seconds remaining to make the score 52-49.
Adams picked up the ball after it rolled all the way over the timeline, dribbled once and heaved a long three-point attempt with four seconds left. The ball hit the backboard and fell into Lauderdale's waiting hands, and she hugged it like a life preserver until the buzzer sounded.
It appeared early on that Kennedy, which won a double-overtime thriller over Oak Ridge in the Sac-Joaquin Section final Saturday, was going to run away from the Oakland Athletic League runner-up, as the Cougars led 9-2 and 14-7 in the first quarter. Castlemont closed the period on a 6-0 run, led by Kaya Johnson, who finished with 17 points.