Girls’ basketball: Ariana Freeman helps No. 3 Paul VI top No. 4 St. John’s, 62-50

Paul VI guard Ariana Freeman strolled into Monday night’s matchup with St. John’s sporting a black and blue shiner under her left eye, courtesy of an elbow she received during a game last week. Freeman is just two weeks removed from a return to the starting lineup after she missed half the season with a serious knee injury, but she hasn’t stopped playing in a bruising physical, style.

She continued that approach Monday night in the opening minute, when she dived for a loose ball and landed awkwardly on her knee. She had never won on St. John’s floor, and the play sent the message that she was willing to sacrifice her body to do so.

And of course, Freeman solved the Cadets’ swarming box-and-one zone defense, scoring 13 points to lift the third-ranked Panthers to a hard-fought 62-50 win over St. John’s in a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference showdown in Northwest. Lindsay Oblitey added 13 points and Raven James chipped in 11 for the Panthers (21-5, 15-1) , who hit eight three-pointers to complete the regular-season sweep of the Cadets (16-7, 11-3) and remain atop the WCAC standings.

“The last few games, I’ve just tried to take the mental part out of it and not think about my knee. It’s still definitely a factor,” Freeman said. “I’m still not 100 percent.”

Paul VI has won eight straight, but it was pushed to its limits by a St. John’s team that wasn’t at full strength. The Cadets have been missing star guard Amari Carter because of a stress fracture in her shin over the past two weeks, but remained neck-and-neck with Paul VI thanks to 18 points and 20 rebounds from center Sarah Overcash.

St. John’s deployed a zone to stop Freeman, who was visibly frustrated in the first half. But she took her knocks and made adjustments in the third quarter, completing a three-point play early in the frame to give her team a 33-25 advantage. After the play, she let out a roar to her bench, and it seemed to be infectious for the rest of the team.

“They were all sagging, they were trying to gaurd Ariana. Everyone else was wide-open,” Oblitey said.

St. John’s pulled to within 50-44 midway through the fourth quarter, but Oblitey drained a three-pointer on the next possession. That sparked a 10-3 run that would seal the game. Oblitey hit another clutch three-pointer with 3 minutes 35 seconds remaining, and with St. John’s concentrating on Freeman, Paul VI center Jonquanae Cole scored seven points down the stretch.

“That was a great defense,” Freeman said of St. John’s. “For me, this is a chip on the shoulder. ... I’ve never won at St. John’s. This is my first time winning at St. John’s. So this is definitely great, I’m happy. This was a great team win.”

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