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VARSITY TIMES

Clements helps Millikan prosper

Arizona-bound junior forward, who is averaging 18 points per game, has led the Rams (14-2) to the top ranking in the Southern Section Division I-AA poll.

January 16, 2008|Martin Henderson | Times Staff Writer

It was some time in the third quarter, her Long Beach Millikan team trailing the best team in the Southland by 10 points, that Courtney Clements had a revelation.

"I knew if we were going to win," she recalled thinking to herself, "I was going to have to come through. I was going to have to at least get my average."

Burdened by first-half foul trouble and Long Beach Poly's defense, Clements nevertheless scored 15 of her game-high 18 points in the second half to lead the Rams to a 51-46 upset.

Her average: 18.3 points.

Millikan has an opportunity to defeat a top-ranked team for the second time in two weeks when it faces Fontana Miller at 6:45 p.m. Saturday in the marquee game of the Chino Hills Ayala Extravaganza.

With its victory over Poly -- its first since 1999 -- Millikan (14-2) vaulted to No. 1 in the Southern Section Division I-AA poll.

Its only blemishes are consecutive four-point losses in overtime to Redondo and Chatsworth in the first week of play. Yet, Clements says the team's legacy will be moot if it doesn't continue to win.

"We will have to play Poly again," she said of a Moore League game scheduled for Jan. 25. "If we don't beat them, I feel like everything I did in the first game won't matter. . . .

"If we don't get to the Pyramid, if we lose early in the playoffs, everything me and my team worked hard for in the preseason won't really matter."

Millikan has never won a Southern Section title at the Pyramid, or anywhere else. At minimum, the Rams are positioned to win a league title -- without the benefit of 22 Poly forfeits in 2004 -- for the first time since winning in 1991 and 1992.

Lorene Morgan, coach since the 1990 season, says this squad has all the necessary elements.

"We've got an inside game, outside game, kids who can handle the ball, kids who can shoot, kids who can play defense," Morgan said. "We've got Courtney inside, Kalena Tutt big in the box, guards like Ashley Mitchell who can play. . . . "

Clements, a 6-foot-1 forward who has signed with Arizona, has a soft touch but a tough disposition.

"She's one of the better outside shooters in the region, a big kid who handles the ball well," Poly Coach Carl Buggs said.

Yet, it is Clements' first season on the varsity. She first attended Lakewood Artesia, where she averaged nine points as a freshman starter, but the school was excluded from the playoffs her sophomore year for using an ineligible player. She said she felt former coach Scott Roczey was treated unfairly when he was fired, so Clements and teammate Macey Nortey transferred to Millikan.

Because Clements did not change her address -- or find a way around the section rules -- she was precluded from playing varsity. She spent last season on the junior varsity, but refused to coast.

"I still had to play hard to keep my level of play higher," Clements said. "I was behind a year from everyone else in my grade level. It was also humbling."

When the JV season ended, she altered her class schedule so she could practice with Millikan's varsity in the morning and attend a class with Morgan in the afternoon to work on her game. She also played club basketball.

"I made sure that I was working out at least two times a day every week," Clements said.

The hard work got her the playing time she wanted by summer's end.

"Everybody who saw her said she was one of the most improved kids in that whole summer circuit," Morgan said. "Her competitiveness and confidence have always been there, but from last season to this fall, her actual skills got much better."

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martin.henderson@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Girls' basketball Martin Henderson's weekly top 25 rankings:

*--* Rk School (Rec.) Division LW 1 Miller (13-1) Div. II-AA 1 2 Narbonne (16-3) City 2 3 Redondo (14-1) Div. I-A 3 4 Muir (15-1) Div. 1-A 4 5 L.B. Millikan (14-2) Div. I-AA 5 6 L.B. Poly (9-2) Div. I-AA 6 7 Brea Olinda (13-3) Div. I-AA 7 8 Santa Margarita (15-2) Div. I-AA 9 9 Ayala (14-3) Div. II-A 10 10 Lynwood (12-5) Div. I-A 11 11 Magnolia (13-4) Div. III-AA 13 12 Perris (12-4) Div. II-A 14 13 Mater Dei (17-1) Div. I-AA 8 14 Marlborough (8-7) Div. III-AA 15 15 Cajon (13-3) Div. II-A 16 16 Chatsworth (13-4) City 18 17 Edison (13-3) Div. II-AA 19 18 Ventura (16-1) Div. I-AA NR 19 Bishop Amat (13-2) Div. I-AA 12 20 Mira Costa (13-3) Div. I-A 20 21 Foothill (14-3) Div. I-A 21 22 San Clemente (12-4) Div. I-A 22 23 Troy (11-4) Div. I-A 23 24 B. Montgomery (13-6) Div. I-AA 17 25 JSerra (16-5) Div. I-AA 24 *--*

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