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Roberson’s heroics fall just short as Lady ’Jackets lose

Monday March 19, 2001

Senior scores 13 points in fourth quarter to lead furious comeback, but Berkeley falls to Narbonne in title game for third time 


By Jared Green 

Daily Planet Staff 


It was almost a storybook ending for Robin Roberson and the Berkeley Lady ’Jackets in the CIF Division I state final Saturday night, but a questionable call and a big size disadvantage kept Roberson and her teammates from claiming the school’s third crown. Berkeley fell to defending national champion Narbonne (Harbor City), 48-45, at ARCO Arena in Sacramento. 

Roberson scored 13 points in the fourth quarter to bring the ’Jackets back from a 10-point deficit, her last basket giving her team their first and only lead of the game at 45-44 with 1:20 left in the game. But the Lady Gauchos (28-3) came up with five offensive rebounds down the stretch, including two from their own missed free throws in the final seconds, and Berkeley wouldn’t score again. 

After Roberson’s final bucket, which capped a 17-6 Berkeley run, center Sabrina Keys fouled Narbonne’s Wilnett Crockett, who hit one free throw to tie the game. The ’Jackets got the ball back with 18.7 seconds left when Narbonne’s Amber Pruitt traveled, and it looked like Berkeley would get the last shot. With the way Roberson, who scored 22 of her game-high 26 points in the second half, was scorching the nets, head coach Gene Nakamura had to believe his team was on the winning track. 

But before the ’Jackets (27-6) could inbound the ball, the referees intruded. Berkeley guard Angelita Hutton was called for pushing off on Narbonne point guard Loree Moore, and the ball went back to the Gauchos. 

“It’s very disappointing to have a call change the game,” Nakamura said. “I was speechless, because I can’t imagine that call being made at that point in the game like that.” 

The call was out of character for the game, which grew increasingly physical in the second half with little intervention from the officials. 

“I was just a little surprised that people that weren’t making any calls suddenly were making calls late in the game,” Nakamura said. “But they’re human, and that’s just part of the game you have to live with.” 

Moore, who will play for national power Tennessee next season, made the first free throw but missed the second. But Narbonne’s height advantage, which Berkeley had managed to negate for much of the second half, came back into play as the 6-foot-2 Lisa Willis grabbed the rebound for the Gauchos. Keys tied her up for a jump ball, but the possession arrow was with Narbonne. They inbounded to Moore, and Rebekah Payne fouled her with 7.8 seconds left. 

“When you have your second rebounder being 6-3 and stepping into the lane, that’s tough,” said Nakamura, whose team has just one six-footer in Keys. “They were long rebounds, and that’s the way the ball bounces.” 

Moore missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Crockett got the rebound and was fouled with 3.7 seconds left. She knocked down both free throws, and Berkeley could only manage an off-balance runner from Roberson that missed the rim as time ran out. 

Narbonne head coach James Anderson said his team’s late rebounding was the key to the win, downplaying the contoversial foul call. 

“Was it a foul? I thought it might not have been,” Anderson said. “But those two rebounds at the end were the crucial plays in the win. If we make our free throws, we win that game earlier.” 

The loss was an especially tough pill to swallow for Roberson, who will play at Arizona next season. She ends her Berkeley career without a state championship, having lost to Narbonne three times (1998, 2000 and this year) in the final game. After struggling in the semifinal game against Oakland, she came out slowly against the Gauchos, shooting just 2-for-9 from the field. But she came out on fire in the second half, and nearly led her team to victory. 

“I was trying to get everyone pumped up, because I feel like everyone feeds off of me,” Roberson said of her second-half exploits. “I felt like it was on my shoulders to pick it up.” 

She got help from Keys, who battled all day against the Narbonne’s huge front line. The junior had 13 points and 12 rebounds, including eight boards in the second half. Berkeley’s size disadvantage was a major reason most predictions were for a Narbonee walk-over, but Keys more than held her own against Willis, 6-foot-3 Crockett and 6-foot-3 Jamie Funn. Narbonne also had 6-foot-2 Indi Johnson off the bench. 

“I felt pretty good about my rebounding today. That’s my role, I’m the rebounder of the team. It doesn’t matter to me if I score as long as I rebound and as long as we win,” Keys said. 

But other than Roberson and Keys, the ’Jackets were horrible on offense. Without Roberson’s 12-for-27 shooting day, Berkeley was just 4-of-34 from the field, and the team was an ice-cold 4-for-30 in the first half and took a 22-12 deficit into halftime. 

But despite his team’s first-half slump, Nakamura felt they outplayed the Gauchos, who will likely be named national champions for the second year in a row by USA Today. 

“I feel we won that game. I couldn’t have asked more from our girls,” he said. “We out-played them, and we should have won the game, plain and simple.” 

Nakamura pointed out the play of Payne on the defensive end, as she harrassed Moore into several uncharacteristic turnovers. But Moore also had a good all-around game, leading her team with 11 points, eight steals and seven assists.