Heaven Cooper Shoots, It Goes In, Culver Makes Playoffs

It was a shot that brought the house down on Senior Night. With the score suddenly tied and 10 seconds left on the game clock the Culver City High girls basketball season was literally on the line.

A home loss to Beverly Hills would deny the Centaurs an invitation to the 2017 CIF Playoffs for the first time in seven years.

On Thursday, February 9, the Norman girls managed to claw their way from a seven-point deficit in the final minutes of the final Ocean League game of the season against Culver in front of a near-capacity but nervous crowd in Del Goodyear Gymnasium. It boiled down to the winner advancing to the playoffs and the loser taking a long vacation.

Eightyfour feet away from the basket Culver's Lauren Jones inbounded the ball to Amy Yoon who then immediately passed to Windy Yoon. Windy dribbled up the right sideline before cutting inside against the defensive press toward midcourt.

In one motion Windy two-handed a 30-foot crosscourt pass to Hayley Yamamoto in front of the Centaur bench and 10 feet beyond the three-point line. Yamamoto glanced at the Norman defense before urgently passing the ball to Heaven Cooper setting up in the far left corner with mere seconds to spare.

Without hesitation Cooper fired a high shot from the corner and buried the game-winning buzzer beater as time expired. All net. Heaven's teammates swarmed her with serious hugs and props while the wooden bleachers erupted in screaming ecstasy. Final score: Culver City 48, Beverly Hills 46.

"I didn't think I was going to get the ball. I thought my friend Hayley was going to shoot it because she was hitting her three's tonight. When she passed me the ball I thought: "We're down. I might as well shoot it. We have nothing to lose." So I shot it," was Cooper's first reaction.

"It felt good when the ball left my hand. In my heart I was begging it to go in. (Laughs) When the ball was in the air I was still looking at it like: "Is it going to go in?" And it went it. I was kind of shocked because at first I thought I air-balled it and I was like: "ohhh.

"Becoming mentally strong is one of our biggest challenges. I think we stayed pretty strong in the head this game. That's exactly what helped us to pull through. It wasn't just my shot but everyone's contribution that helped us win."

The game felt like a heavyweight title fight as both teams played tough defense and controlled the rebounds on their own boards. Beverly led 6-5 after a stingy first quarter. Culver was still down at halftime, 17-16 as the offenses started to warm up.

Beverly center Chantel Moawad gave Culver all they could handle inside after Angel Morris got into early foul trouble. Senior Billie Chrichton came off the bench to give the Centaurs a much-needed boost down low.

Cooper: "Angel, our tallest player, got into foul trouble early, so we really had to learn how to adapt to the situation quickly before it turned worse."

Amy Yoon scored seven points in the half, Cooper added four, Yamamoto hit the first of her three three-point baskets and Windy Yoon added a field goal. But the Centaurs fell further behind in the third quarter as they were outscored 13-9 and down by five going into the final one.

"This wasn't one of my best games. But my coach (Julian Anderson) told me to keep my head up and keep fighting to the end. So it finally paid off to keep my head up in a bad situation," said Cooper.

"He was basically telling us to keep our heads together and to stay together as a team and don't let anything else but the game get into our heads. As a team we struggle with things like the crowd or mistakes we make really affect our game."

The Centaurs came out with a flurry in the fourth quarter. Windy Yoon hit two crucial three-pointers and Yamamoto added her third three-pointer. Amy Yoon added four points with a field goal and two free throws.

Windy Yoon tied the score at 35-35 with a three-pointer at the 4:14 mark and soon put the Centaurs up by one with a free throw. Culver increased the lead to 42-35 with 2:25 to go in the game when Lauren Jones started dominating the court with rebounds, steals and driving the lane for seven points in crunch time.

"Lauren has really been developing and I'm very proud of her as a teammate and seeing her step up. She's one of my close friends and I'm happy to see her doing good in these games and pulling through for us. She is becoming one of the head figures of our team along with the rest of the starting five," said Cooper.

"We really try to not allow anything to get into our heads. Anything is possible as you saw tonight when we were down. We just had that drive that we're going to score. If we don't win we're going to lose trying to win. So basically what was going through our heads was not giving up.

"Even before my shot we were really picking up the intensity the last two minutes. I'm proud of our team mentally and how we stayed composed. Through the little battles down low and other teams trying to get into our heads on offense and defense I'm just glad that we pulled it together mentally."

Beverly's Arbri Gillis, the game's high scorer with 18 points including six free throws, got the ball with 18 seconds to go, drove the floor and pulled up for a two-point jumper to tie the score at 46-46, setting up the game winning heroics by the Centaur five.

"Our coach from the beginning said we're not going to talk about winning. We're just going to play. He doesn't want us to feel pressure in any way that we've won all these years so we have to win every game. He says he's proud of us if we win or lose. As long as we play hard he's happy," concluded Cooper.

"We have this thing our coach says: "Don't let wins or losses get to our heads." So even though we won tonight we have to understand that: Yes, it's a big win but just don't lay off and get lazy. We have to keep up the consistency and the hard work that we're putting in to get these wins.

"Since we have a young team and we only have two seniors this year versus last year with all the experienced seniors we had we really had to understand to play together. We try not to let the records before us get to us."

The Centaur girls finished tied for second in the Ocean League with Santa Monica High at 7-3. Lawndale won the league championship with a 9-1 record.

Culver City had won the league title the previous five seasons compiling a 49-1 record overall.

Culver City will play its first CIF Division 2AA Playoff game up the coast at Arroyo Grande High, just outside of Pismo Beach this Thursday, February 16 at 6 p.m. If the Centaur girls win their first round game they will travel to Rowland Heights to play Rowland High on Saturday, February 18 at 7 p.m.


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