By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD, Journal Sports
Centenary’s Gold Dome was packed Friday afternoon to watch two of the nation’s best high school girls’ basketball players and their teams face off in a matchup between Parkway and Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, Calif.
Lines to get into the Big South Shootout – the first stop in a five-city, national tour put on by the Big Hoops Shootout organization to highlight the top high school teams in the country– began forming early in the afternoon for the 4 o’clock tipoff.
And the game that highlighted the top two recruits in the nation in Parkway’s Mikaylah Williams and Sierra Canyon’s Judea “JuJu” Watkins did not disappoint. The Lady Panthers put up a fight against the preseason USA No.2 ranked Trailblazers – getting within 10 points in the final two minutes – but fell 61-49 in front of an amped-up crowd.
“Playing in front of a crowd like that puts us back into state championship surroundings,” said Parkway coach Gloria Williams. “To be so close in a game like that. That just built my confidence in these young ladies.”
Parkway superstar (and LSU commit) Mikaylah Williams got off to a slow start — scoring just four points in the first half – but came back to finish with 17.
“Mikaylah is all-world,” Sierra Canyon coach Alicia Kamaki said after the game. “I’m a No. 1 JuJu fan, of course, but Mikaylah is as close to that type of player as I’ve seen. They are very similar.”
Very similar, indeed.
Friday’s game matched the reigning Louisiana Gatorade Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year (Williams) against the California Gatorade Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year (Watkins). Both have been named to the 2022-23 Preseason MaxPreps All-America Girls’ Basketball team.
Williams averaged 22.8 points and 8 rebounds and led the Lady Panthers to a runner-up finish in last season’s state championship game. Watkins averaged 24.8 points and 10.3 rebounds to lead the Trailblazers to the California state championship.
Watkins is a two-time gold medalist with USA Basketball and Williams won a gold medal with Team USA in the 2022 FIBA 3×3 U18 World Cup and was named MVP.
“JuJu just had a little more fire power today,” the Parkway coach said of Watkins, who had a game-high 24 points, followed by Mackenly Randolph with 21 and Crystal Wang with 10. Chloe Larry, who had a game-high 34 points in the 2022 state championship game, led the Lady Panthers with 21 points against Sierra Canyon.
“It was fun,” Larry said of playing in front of the large crowd. “We could have done better, but that was a great team out there.”
The Lady Panthers led 15-12 after the first quarter and trailed by just five points at the half but could not keep pace with the Trailblazers in the second half. Behind Watkins’ 10 third-quarter points, Sierra Canyon took an 11-point lead into the final period and pushed it to 15 points with three minutes to play.
Parkway got within 10 points with two minutes left but couldn’t get any closer.
“It was kind of like David and Goliath,” the Parkway coach said of the matchup against the nation’s No. 2-ranked high school team. “There were just a few mismatches.”
Still, Friday’s game was a win-win for the local sports community.
“I loved playing in front of the hometown crowd,” said Williams, the Lady Panthers’ star.
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