Joe Davidson

Wong sisters help McClatchy Lions top rival Sacramento, roar back into basketball playoffs

Serra Cavaliers guard Briana Johnson (2) passes as she's double teamed by McClatchy Lions Kelsey Wong (3) and guard Kristi Wong (24) in the second quarter on Friday night, March 27, 2015 in the girls Div 1 State Championship game between the McClatchy Lions and Serra Cavaliers at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, California
Serra Cavaliers guard Briana Johnson (2) passes as she's double teamed by McClatchy Lions Kelsey Wong (3) and guard Kristi Wong (24) in the second quarter on Friday night, March 27, 2015 in the girls Div 1 State Championship game between the McClatchy Lions and Serra Cavaliers at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, California jvillegas@sacbee.com

They’re bandaged up, bruised up and seemingly out of breath with flushed red faces as they pound down the floor.

But this duo never slows down. They even hustle off the floor on time outs.

Twins Kelsey and Kristi Wong set a relentless tone for McClatchy High School girls basketball on both ends of the court in continuing to register a profound victory for every smaller player in the land. You can measure height, sure, but you cannot measure effort, and these 5-foot-1 Lions epitomize that as they dribble with a grimace and defend with the same sort of purpose, in addition to setting screens, boxing out and hitting shots.

With the senior anchors leading the charge, and McClatchy receiving gallant efforts from a host of others, including Jordan Cruz and her cool free-throw shooting down the stretch, the Bee-ranked No. 4 Lions topped No. 3 Sacramento 60-55 in a Metropolitan Conference contest on Friday night at McClatchy.

In a meeting of decades-long Sacramento City Unified School District rivals, a full gym was treated to elite-level competition. Be it energy, skill, defense or big shots, it all played out here for two superbly coached and conditioned teams that likely will tie for the Metro title. And both seek to do a lot more winning in the upcoming Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, McClatchy (21-5, 12-1) in Division I and Sacramento (18-8, 12-1) in Division II.

Kelsey Wong, with a heavy left shoulder wrap, was the Lions’ primary ball handler, weaving around defenders, facilitating, hitting twisting and turning layups, jumpers and free throws to the tune of 15 points. Kristi Wong, not at all slowed by a right knee wrap, was tasked with guarding one of the region’s top scorers in shooting guard Aliceah Hernandez, and she did an admirable job controlling the UC Santa Barbara-bound senior. Hernandez had 12 points and Kelsey Wong 13.

Cruz – days after dropping in 44 points and hitting 12 three-pointers, both school records, against Valley – salted this one away with five free throws in the final 27 seconds. The skilled junior had 19 points.

“We’re playing really well, especially on defense, and we’re pretty good on offense,” said Cruz, sweat cascading down her face.

She said of the Wong twins, “They get pushed, shoved, scratched, bruised, knocked to the floor and still fight through it. You’ve got to have heart and effort, and we have that.”

Kelsey Wong appreciated her role of stopper in facing Hernandez, who played big in leading the Dragons to a 60-55 victory over McClatchy on Jan. 21.

“I had one job: cover Hernandez,” Kelsey Wong said, smiling. “It wasn’t easy, and I had team help. It was fun.”

The Lions expected to be formidable this season, with several key cogs back from their CIF State Division I championship team. But the most critical cog, 2015 Bee Player of the Year Gigi Garcia, missed her senior season with a knee injury. The 6-2 Washington-bound post has offered support as a coach of sorts.

The Wong sisters, Cruz and guard Sarah Shimizu have been flanked this winter by impressive impact freshmen Kamryn Hall and Nia Lowery, skilled 5-10 forwards. In addition, junior guard KaMaree Donald has been a key contributor this season.

Cruz hit a three to beat the first-quarter buzzer for a 14-8 Lions lead after one quarter, and Kelsey Wong hit a driving layup at the halftime buzzer for a 28-20 lead. A Cruz three gave the Lions a 46-35 lead with 5:28 left to play, and a Kelsey Wong twisting, falling-down layup made it 51-52 with 3:02 to go.

Sitting behind the Lions’ bench soaking it all in was Harvey Tahara, the father of the program as a section Hall of Fame coach from decades past. He coached and groomed Kunisaki.

“Great team win,” Kunisaki said. “It’s a great group of girls. They’re all 3.5 students or better, so they’re working hard on and off the court, and it shows. The effort has always been there. After the hard work is there, then you teach basketball, and it becomes fun.”

Adriana Avent had 11 and Richelle Turney 10 for Sacramento. The Dragons and Lions have one more league game before the playoffs.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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