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Crean Lutheran outduels Cypress in epic scoring battle to unofficially clinch league title: 5 takeaways

Recent NAU commit Taylor Feldman dropped 36 points for the Saints.

CYPRESS– Recent NAU commit Taylor Feldman dropped 36 points on Tuesday to lead Crean Lutheran to an exciting 67-65 win at Cypress in a game with massive Empire League ramifications. Here are five takeaways from the game:

FELDMAN GRADUALLY TAKES OVER, TOPS HERSELF AGAIN

Feldman, who committed to Northern Arizona earlier in the month, came into the game playing some of the best basketball career. She averaged 28.5 PPG in the two games leading up to Tuesday, and would nearly match that mark in the second half alone. After a slightly shaky start from the field, she got herself into rhythm more and more as the game went on, and scored more points in each quarter as the game went on – four points in the first, nine in the second, 10 in the third, and 13 in the fourth. Feldman has now scored 93 points in her last three games.

"We are blessed to have her," said co-head coach Bianca Ziemann after the game. "She made huge shots in huge moments... I think she loves the pressure."

The film speaks for itself: Feldman gets wherever she wants to on the floor with the ball on a string. Her combination of ambidexterity and footwork in the lane is unsurpassed in Southern California high school hoops – maybe unparalleled. Additionally, her outstanding spacial awareness in traffic also helps her get to the line without needing to sell calls. And Feldman's ability to get to the line early in the game on Tuesday, before her shots were falling, was crucial in controlling the tempo and quickly afterwards getting into a rhythm from the field.

EMILY REED – SHOOTER ALERT

Before she ever even touched the ball, Emily Reed's presence was felt on Tuesday. She's been one of the top spot-up threats in the Southern Section as a senior, knocking down nearly 40% of her three-point attempts, despite many of them coming from multiple feet behind the arc and/or with a very quick release over an incoming defender. The Centurions were concertedly keyed in on where she was in proximity to the three-point line as soon as the game started, providing valuable floor spacing for an offense that is otherwise very oriented towards scoring in the paint and getting to the free-throw line.

Even still, she knocked down a trio of treys and finished with 13 points, tied for most in the game behind Feldman.

"I knew that staying out, drawing the defense out, would give Taylor open lanes," said Reed. "She always passes to me when I'm open, she hits me all the time, we have a great dynamic, we're friends on and off the court – it's a lot of fun playing with her."

"She's my partner, she's an amazing shooter. We have matching minds, like twin brains," said Feldman on her back-court mate. "She knows when she needs to take big shots and she hits them, and when she's not hitting shots, she knows how to get to the rim."

"She knows how to play with Tay, at times they're almost like sisters, especially in the past year," said co-head coach Rachael Ziemann. She added that in addition to her consistent shooting and floor-spacing, Reed is a versatile defensive presence who can even slide into a stretch four role to complement Crean's wealth of paint-oriented post players.

CREAN LUTHERAN ON THE CUSP OF A LEAGUE TITLE, POTENTIAL CHAMPIONSHIP RUN

The Saints' league title is almost official, but first they have to take care of business in three more league games. They only need to win one to clinch a tie atop the league and win two to win it outright, but they'll be the major favorite in all three games, seeing as they beat the three remaining opponents by a combined 101 points in the first round of league play.

Additionally, Crean Lutheran is one of a few main contenders in the upcoming CIFSS 2-AA playoffs. The 2-AA bracket usually has a few clear favorites to go deep that could even make some real noise in Division 1 or garner Open Division consideration, and the Saints are one of those teams this season. Right now, they project as a slight underdog to fast-rising Orange Lutheran and Sage Hill in that bracket, but are a clear threat to go all the way and pick up where they left off after deep runs nearly resulted in titles the last two seasons.

"Our goal is to clinch it this Friday," said Ziemann, "so that if we do lose two, we're still tied. I don't foresee that happening... but we respect all our opponents. We're in a good position to be happy... but every game we need to play 'Saints > self', that's our motto. It starts on defense, being pesky and aggressive, but still disciplined. When we do that, we're phenomenal."

"[After] finishing out league, our goal, [the players'] goals, is to make it back to a CIF championship game."

Gianna DeForest and Sydnee Norwood both added seven points, with DeForest's three successive field goals energizing the team in a first quarter flurry.

HECK OF AN EFFORT FOR CYPRESS, A RISING PROGRAM AND FULL-FLEDGED 3-AA CONTENDER

While this loss puts a league title almost all the way out of reach now for Cypress, it's hard to say enough good things about the Centurions.

They finished 6-5 in league play last year, and this year came very close to knocking off Crean twice. They're also unbeaten in league play outside of Crean this season, without any other games coming down to single-digits. The strong likelihood is that they'll finish 8-2 with only six/seven points separating them from a league title.

Cypress' offensive performance spoke for itself, putting up 65 points on a strong defense with four players in double-figures and eight made threes on the night. The Centurions move the ball well and play with a high level of chemistry and intensity, and anyone on the floor for them is a threat to create or make a shot at any time, including in the clutch. They will lose four seniors next season, two of whom play significant minutes, but the bulk of their core will return in 2022-23. That makes Cypress a solid bet to make another substantial leap up the Orange County pecking order next season.

That said, they might not even need to wait till then to bring home some hardware. There's a small handful of clear projected contenders in the upcoming Southern Section 3-AA playoffs, but Cypress is as legitimate a threat as any of them. If the Centurions continue to consistently bring their A-game when the postseason comes around, there's a real chance that they go on a section and/or state championship run in the middle divisions.

Myia Collins, one of the top power forwards in OC, led Cypress with 13 points. Lauryn Nakamura and Vanessa Gonzalez scored 12 points each, and Jasmine Arnold had 10, Jan Lim had eight, and Isabella Caceres added six points.

2K TAY

Feldman's longtime trainer, who has a Nike connection, surprised Feldman after the game with a pair of customized kicks as an early Senior Night present, and to commemorate her 2,000 career points mark.

And they're about as fresh as it gets!

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