WOODBRIDGE — Elizabeth Murphy heard all season how she needs to shoot the basketball more often.
In the past 48 hours, the Woodbridge senior guard has discovered why.
Murphy followed up the best shooting night of her career with another bulls-eye performance on Friday. She nailed three 3-pointers, including a game-tying jumper from the right sideline with 3:43 remaining, as the Vikings held off Hylton, 44-43, in the first of two tiebreaker games to determine the regular season champion in the Cardinal District.
“For me, it’s kind of the end,” Murphy said. “It comes down to wanting it really bad.”
After scoring a season-high 11 points in Thursday’s victory over Gar-Field, Murphy came up with nine more against the Bulldogs.
“That 3-pointer was big,” Vikings coach George Washington told Murphy as she headed out the door.
As big, perhaps, as her team-high 5 steals.
And certainly right up there with the contributions the Vikings received from senior captains Whitney Allen and Diana Martinez.
Allen led Woodbridge (19-4) with 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Martinez had 12 points. Senior Faith Blackshear added 4 points and 6 rebounds for the Vikings, who will be playing for the third time in three days when they host Forest Park this afternoon at 4 p.m.
“It’s kind of tough, but it’s fun,” Murphy said. “Right now, I just want to go home, ice my knee and get some sleep.”
With the Cardinal District Tournament scheduled to begin Monday night at Gar-Field, the Vikings don’t have much time to rest. Not that they really mind.
According to Allen, the fun is just beginning.
“I love it,” she said. “Tournament time is when the season really starts. As a team, we want that number one spot.”
Of course, nobody promised the Vikings it would be easy.
When Hylton defeated Woodbridge last week and then upset 6th-ranked Forest Park on Thursday, the dynamic within the Cardinal District was altered significantly.
The Bulldogs (15-5) were the home team last night at Forest Park High School and they nearly came up with another season-defining win thanks to a 19-point effort from Jasmine Byrd.
“It’s always fun playing against Jasmine,” Allen said. “I’ve known her since eighth grade and we go at it every time. That’s the competitive spirit we have.”
A night after they wiped out a 16-point halftime deficit to stun Forest Park, the Bulldogs almost came from behind once again. Down by nine with little more than three minutes remaining in the third quarter, Hylton fought back to briefly grab a 43-42 lead on a pair of Byrd free throws with 62 seconds left in the game.
“They rose to the occasion,” Allen said. “But we played hard and won.”
Allen made sure of it. After being held to just two points in the first half, the George Washington University-bound forward grabbed a rebound and scored the game-winning basket on a layup with 34 seconds remaining.
“Coach Wash told me it was my time,” said Allen, who altered her style of play and scored 14 points in the second half.
“They know I normally go baseline,” she explained, “so I started stepping back and going to the middle.”
That was just one key adjustment for the Vikings, who also resorted to a spread offense over the final 16 minutes to draw the Bulldogs out of a zone defense.
“They were doubling down on us in the zone, so we drew them out into man-to-man and started working into the post more,” Allen said.
Finding open space in the lane was a difficult task early on. Hylton center Griselda Shutermeja and forward Stephanie Gbadegsin cut off the passing lane and prevented the Vikings from using their favorite play — the pick-and-roll.
Woodbridge countered with six 3-pointers, Allen’s game-winner and a brilliantly-designed defensive stand in the final seconds that prevented Byrd from getting the ball on Hylton’s final possession.
Following a timeout, the Vikings lined up with Murphy and Faith Blackshear both guarding Byrd. The risk was leaving guard Amanda Sellman wide open on the left sideline, but the strategy prevailed when Sellman missed a jumper with 4.1 seconds left.
Allen grabbed the rebound and even though she missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw, the Bulldogs didn’t have time to run a play. Shareka Purnell fired a 3-point attempt from just inside half court, but it bounced off the backboard as time expired.
“We focus on defense,” Murphy said. “Defense wins games so coach tells us to go out there and be tough. That’s what we did.”