Kai Crutchfield talked about the shot – but only briefly.
She was more interested in letting a room full of media know how much she depended on her Millbrook Wildcats.
“I honestly wasn’t thinking about it,” the junior guard said of banking in the game-winning shot. “I just shot – I don’t know, I just shot it. First off, I had faith in my teammate she was going to make the free throw. I just went ahead and shot the ball knowing it was only a couple seconds left.”
Millbrook defeated previously unbeaten Northwest Guilford, 46-45, for an N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A championship Saturday at the Smith Center.
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Millbrook junior forward Andreal Bass was lined up for a free throw and a chance to tie the game with 3.5 seconds left; the Wildcats were trailing, 45-44.
When the shot bounced off the rim, Crutchfield secured the offensive rebound and, as she said, just shot it.
“I wouldn’t be able to do it without my teammates,” said Crutchfield, who led the game with 17 points and won Most Valuable Player honors. “I couldn’t be here without them. Them just pushing me in practice, pushing me on the court, off the court.”
After the game-winner fell, Crutchfield sprung up and down, her leaps curtailed by a Wildcats dogpile.
When Crutchfield emerged, she was greeted by coach Chris East.
“I told her I loved her,” East said. “I said, ‘Way to be there.’ We preached all year about being in the right spot and doing what you gotta do.”
Crutchfield was clutch throughout the game. Millbrook started the third quarter on a 10-0 run behind efforts from East Most Outstanding Player Dazia Powell (12 points, four rebounds, one steal). Powell stole possession near halfcourt and found senior Dominique Cross under the hoop. Crutchfield, who finished with six rebounds, was there for the putback.
Value of rebounding
No one was more effective on the boards, however, than Bass.
She finished with a game-high 14, 10 on the defensive glass.
Northwest senior forward Morgan Pointer, the West’s MOP responsible for capturing a late Vikings lead, made a free throw to put her team ahead 44-43 with about 13 seconds remaining. When she missed the second, Bass was there.
On the offensive end, Bass pulled down her final rebound and drew contact on the shot attempt. There were 3.5 seconds left when she lined up for two free throws, hitting the first.
“Without her first free throw, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” said Millbrook senior Jaleesa Dillard, who offered words of encouragement as Bass faced the line.
“I told her that I believe in her and everybody else believes in her. Whether the ball goes through the net or if it doesn’t, don’t feel like it’s on you,” Dillard said of her message to her younger teammate. “I’ve been in that situation before last year when we played Southeast. The last thing I wanted was for everybody to tell me I needed to make the free throw.”
Millbrook players said they were prepared to snatch the rebound if the shot didn’t go in. Crutchfield played the entire game (game-high 32 minutes) and, like a flash, proved the value of trusting your teammates – and rebounding – in one last play.
“It was one of those moments that was in slow motion, like, ‘Wow, this really happened,’ ” Crutchfield said. “I was in shock. That was so crazy.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan