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Winning Attitudes : Tuiolosega Rebounds From Knee Injury


HUNTINGTON BEACH — To fully appreciate Jennifer Tuiolosega's season, just look back on her freshman and sophomore years, when she was one of the most dynamic young basketball players in Southern California.

And the next season, which she spent in a knee brace after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament. It threatened her basketball career, and it took a painful 6 1/2 months of off-season rehabilitation to get back most of the form she had before the injury.

Her performance in 1996-97, leading Ocean View to the Golden West League title (its fourth in a row), a No. 5 ranking in Orange County (its highest ever) and a No. 2 seeding in the Southern Section Division II-A playoffs can bring about only one conclusion:

Tuiolosega was the logical choice as The Times Orange County girls' basketball player of the year.

An invaluable team member with MVP-caliber performances, her consistency and effort were never questioned.

On nights her team lost, which weren't often in a 25-5 season, opposing coaches seemed to say the same thing over and over.

"She's a player."

They emphasized it, because that's what Tuiolosega is. A player of the highest order, who will attend San Diego next year on the scholarship that, after her knee injury, was in doubt.

She's one of a few county athletes who has presence. Her teammates watch her and know they're never out of the game. They can follow her lead because they know they are being led.

In the Marina tournament against Anchorage East (ranked third in Alaska), the Seahawks trailed by nine points at halftime. Tuiolosega responded with 21 points in the second half, including Ocean View's last 10, and her basket in the final seconds provided its only lead of the game, 56-54. The final score.

She averaged 20.2 points this season, with 4.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Her 14.6 scoring average last season helped Ocean View reach the Southern Section final for the first time. She averaged 17.8 before the injury. She tries not to dwell on what might have been.

One of Ocean View's three starting guards, Tuiolosega found herself the point guard out of necessity whenever the Seahawks faced a suffocating press. But she was at her best at off-guard.

Despite double teams, she shot 50.6% from the field, 55.5% from inside the three-point arc. Beyond the arc, she was one of only five county players who shot 40% or better. Tuiolosega shot 40.2%.

But maybe the most impressive facet of Tuiolosega's game is what she did from the free-throw line.

She took a county-high 211 free throws, and shot 77.7%.

She set eight single-season or single-game school records, among them, her 164-for-211 performance from the line. The 164 free throws she made is 37 more than Woodbridge's Krissy Duperron. Her 211 trips to the line are 29 more than Fountain Valley's Kelly Boeke.

Duperron is a forward. Boeke is a center.

Tuiolosega is all guard.

Her left-handed dribble drive to the basket, through traffic, cutting and dashing all the way and throwing the ball in for a layup, is one of the memorable trademark images of the season, like Whitney Houser's 12-footer from the baseline or Jennifer Saari pulling up to shoot a three-pointer.

Her 605 points and 46 in one game are also school records. So is her 17-of-19 performance from the free-throw line one night against Rosary. She averaged 15.4 points in 112 games, and her 1,722 points are among the best in county history.

Sure, there were games Tuiolosega didn't score as much. She had only eight points against Tustin, her lowest output of the season, but also had a school-record 16 assists in the 25-point victory.

Her productivity helped Ocean View have the county's highest-scoring inside-outside tandem. Anna Lembke, a 6-foot-1 junior, averaged 15.8 points.

And Tuiolosega (5-8) proved herself in the big games as much as she did in the little ones.

Her assist and rebound totals improved against the better competition. Against opponents who were ranked among the county top 10 or who ultimately won 20 games or more, Tuiolosega averaged 5.1 assists and 6.1 rebounds. She scored 18.3 in those games.

She admitted early in the season that defense was one of her weakest areas. Then she went out and held Mater Dei's all-county player, Tina Garcia, to four points in their first meeting. And Tustin's Shamekia Perkins (20.1 points) to 15. And Marina's Marisa Emde (14.4) to four. And Pacifica's Jaymee Pendergast (17.9) to five in a playoff game.

She's a player.

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