February 13, 2012
By Rich Barton
NJS.com Staff Writer
Deja Gabbidon scored a career-high 22 points for Teaneck, which cruised into the Bergen County Tournament semfinals with a 65-43 win over Ridgefield Park on Saturday.
PARAMUS – Coming into this season, it was widely recognized that Teaneck would go as far as its three-pronged senior backcourt of Jakelle King-Gilchrist, Rebecca Sparks, and Monique Cheeck would take it. That all changed when center Kayla Gibbs became one of North Jersey’s most improved players and gave the Highwaywomen a legitimate inside presence. But an even bigger surprise has emerged in recent weeks.
Deja Gabbidon started the season as Teaneck's ‘fifth starter’, so to speak. With its season at a critical juncture, Gabbidon has finally showed the confidence and the game her head coach Shenee Clarke has seen in her for years. Gabbidon is no longer just filling out the starting lineup; she is a true offensive threat that has given the Highwaywomen another strength, as if they really needed one.
“When Deja is playing as well as she did today it leaves other coaches having to pick their poison of who they are going to leave open,” said Teaneck head coach Shenee Clarke, who led Ridgefield Park to the Bergen County final as a player in the late 1990’s. “I’ve been getting in her head all year every single day because I know what she can bring to the table. This team tends to lean on one another and we always find ways to pick each other up when someone else if having an off night. Today is was Deja’s turn and she came up with a great game both offensively and defensively.”
Whether driving to the basket of hitting three-pointers, Gabbidon can do it all and did so on Saturday. She netted a career-high 22 points as top-seeded Teaneck reached the Bergen County semifinal round with a 65-43 quarterfinal victory over eighth-seeded Ridgefield Park at Paramus Catholic High School.
“I know I need to play big if we’re going to finally win a county championship,” said Gabbidon. “I hit a couple shots early and that gave me all the confidence to keep going to the basket hard and shooting when I was open.”
Teaneck did not totally overwhelm Ridgefield Park as it has most of its opponents this season. But after a slow start, the Highwaywomen methodically broke RP down throughout the first half and gradually pulled away to a 35-17 halftime lead.
“We had to have good possessions in the first half to stay in it and we didn’t have enough of them to keep it close,” said Ridgefield Park head coach Chris Blessing. “I thought we rushed some passes and were passing to spots instead of just running our offense. But that’s a credit to Teaneck and how fast they make you play. I’m proud of the way we fought back in the second half and how happy we were to play Teaneck. Playing them is great preparation for the state tournament.’
Ridgefield Park tried to make a run behind Kellie Lane and Katherine Haines, but the duo was offset by Teaneck’s inside-outside tandem of Gibbs and Gabbidon to lift the Highwaywomen to another win.
Gibbs also finished with 22 points to go with 13 rebounds for Teaneck (19-2). Haines led the way for Ridgefield Park (16-3) with 16 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks. Lane chipped in with 15 points.
Teaneck will play fourth-seeded Paramus Catholic, which won it quarterfinal game on a buzzer-beater from Alisha Cornett, in next weekend’s Bergen County semifinals. In a regular-season meeting played exactly one month ago, the Highwaywomen got 10 combined three-pointers from King-Gilchrist and Sparks en route to an 81-64 triumph.
They hope to have a more balanced attack this time around as they move one step closer to grabbing that elusive county title, a quest that has been weighing heavily on this senior class that has already had three heartbreaking experiences in the county tournament.
“We have been working every day from the off-season to day one of practice until now to have a shot at winning the county title,” added Gabbidon. “We’re tired of being one of the favorites and coming up short in the end. It has started with harder practices and that intensity has rolled over into our games. I know when I’m playing with confidence and my teammates are just as confident in me that it makes us a better team. We’re going to keep working hard and take it one game at a time towards our ultimate goal of being county champs and then being state champs.”
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