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When Crenshaw center Kimberly Howse aggravated a knee injury Thursday night and sat down in the second half of the Cougars' game against Buena, her teammates picked up the slack and grabbed the lead.

But not for long. Although Howse managed to return early in fourth quarter, the Cougars could not fend off a fierce last-minute attack by the team from Ventura and lost the Southern California Regional Division I semifinal game, 60-52, at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Crenshaw held a five-point lead with just over three minutes to play, but Buena scored 11 consecutive points to take a 54-48 with 44 seconds left. Cathleen Grice cut the deficit to 55-52 on her fifth three-point basket, but freshman Ebony Conley made five free throws in the final 19 seconds to secure the victory.

The loss ruined Crenshaw's bid to become the first City girls' team to reach a state title game and ended a 15-game winning streak.

"I don't even want to talk about it," said Grice, the City 4-A Co-Player of the Year. The 5-4 senior point guard finished with 20 points, 10 steals and eight assists.

Howse and Michele Keyes added 11 and 10 points, respectively, for the City champion Cougars (24-3).

Despite the fine individual performances, Crenshaw could not get on track offensively in the fourth quarter. The Cougars led 40-39 after three quarters, but made only two field goals in the last five minutes.

Keyes gave second-seeded Crenshaw a 48-43 lead on a baseline jump shot with 3:27 to play before the Cougars' lead evaporated over the next minute.

"We had the game won, but we didn't hold on to the ball," Crenshaw Coach Major Dennis said.

Michelle Giordano, who had a game-high 28 points, converted a three-point play to bring Buena to within two, 48-46. Conley followed a missed free throw to give Buena, the Southern Section I-A champion, the lead for good.

"It could have gone either way," said Buena Coach Joe Vaughan. "We just happened to get hot at the right time."

The Bulldogs (25-3) broke a 35-35 tie to open a 39-35 lead after Howse left the game with 2:32 in the third quarter but were unable to pull away. Grice made a three-point basket and Keyes scored twice for a seven-point run which gave the Cougars a 42-39 lead with 7:21 to play before Howse returned.

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