With only a few seconds left and the biggest game of her team's season so far in hand, St. John's freshman guard Azzi Fudd walked slowly up the court to the free throw line. As she passed midcourt and four of her teammates celebrated around her, she stared ahead, eyes on the basket.
Her free throws, taken calmly and made easily, gave Fudd 27 points and capped her six-point run in the final minute of a 51-45 win against Paul VI on Wednesday night. The No. 1 Cadets (11-1) and No. 2 Panthers (10-2) had been tied at 45 when St. John's senior Sydney Wood stole an inbounds pass and dished it to Fudd, who attacked the basket and laid it in. Four free throws from Fudd followed, sending Paul VI players to the home locker room in silence.
"I was nervous for this game, but I was also excited," Fudd said. "I watched from the crowd last year and saw what a good matchup this is."
Wednesday's game was the first time the teams had met since the Cadets took down the Panthers to win the 2017 WCAC championship. So far this season, the teams have mostly rolled through arduous nonconference schedules. Paul VI's margin of victory in its 10 wins was 26.1 points. For St. John's, it was 25.7.
That's what made the start to Wednesday's game frustrating and a bit confusing : Mistakes were frequent, baskets hard to come by. Fudd nailed the first shot of the game, a smooth pullup jumper from the right elbow, but mustered only five points the rest of the half with Paul VI junior guard Ashley Owusu bearing down on her. The Cadets got 10 points apiece from Wood and center Malu Tshitenge-Mutumbo to balance the scoring sheet.
"We couldn't figure things out offensively at all there for a while, so to come away with a win, I feel relieved," St. John's Coach Jonathan Scribner said.
Owusu led the Panthers on offense, scoring 18 points. Her five baskets in the third quarter led to an 11-0 run that gave Paul VI a three-point lead heading into the fourth. But with about four minutes left in the game, Owusu came to the sideline with cramps. Over the next few minutes, she alternated between lying down behind the scorer's table to receive treatment and doing her best to limp around the court as the teams traded baskets. On an inbounds pass with a minute left, Owusu fell to the floor at midcourt, covering her face in pain.
Fudd, who all night had taken advantage of anyone else guarding her, went on to win the game for the Cadets.
"You hate to win that way, when their best player goes out the way she did," Scribner said. "You don't want to win that way, but we really took advantage when she went out."
After a first half dominated by defense, the second was all about opportunity. Each team scored in bursts until the final minutes, when Fudd's run finished things.
"When they went 11-0, I was just thinking, 'We have to weather this,' " Wood said. "We had to weather their run so we could go on a run of our own. And that won the game."