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Dalayah Daniels shines as Garfield bests Lake Washington in the 3A state championship

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BY TJ COTTERILL

TACOMA — Meghan Fiso wasn’t going to the University of Michigan without first getting that gold ball.

Dalayah Daniels wasn’t going to Cal without it. This
Garfield High School girls basketball team wasn’t leaving the Tacoma Dome until
it was safely in their hands.

No matter the litany of injuries that cursed Garfield this
season, no matter the loser-out games the Bulldogs had to get through and it didn’t
matter that they had to complete their run against a young, talented Lake
Washington squad, the Bulldogs left Saturday night’s 3A state championship
following with the boys’ recipe, winning 55-41 for their first state title
since 2005.

And the first state title for these talented recruits, Fiso
and Daniels.

“It means so much,” Daniels said before stopping to hold
back her tears and shaking her head.

“I’m just so glad to bring my team here. They deserve it.”

This was the game Garfield coach Marvin Hall had been waiting
for out of Daniels, the 6-foot-4 five-star recruit who has been battling and
ankle injury and had been a limited factor in the Bulldogs’ previous two games
in the Tacoma Dome because of foul trouble.

But she saved her best for last. Two years ago she was on
Garfield’s team that lost in the state title against Gig Harbor and she wasn’t
going to have that feeling again, not in her final game.

She finished with a game-high 18 points and added four
rebounds, three blocks and three steals on 8-for-13 shooting. She even stepped
out and hit a pair of 3-pointers.

But where Daniels shined was defensively, towering in the paint.
She was a big reason why Lake Washington made 14 of 41 shots (34.1 percent).

“What a big spot for her to show up,” Hall said. “Man, she
played her behind off. All of the accomplishments she’s gathered, this is like
the icing on the cake.

“I think she knew what was on the line and this is her last
year. And I think she was just thinking, ‘I’m going to go out with a bang.”

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But it was Fiso, who transferred from West Seattle before
the season, carrying Garfield in the first half, scoring all nine of her points
in the first 16 minutes. Her shot just before the halftime horn, a strong
finish driving to the basket, gave Garfield a 23-20 lead.

When Daniels at times struggled this year, it was typically
Fiso carrying the load.

“When (Daniels) was out, Meghan put the team on her back,”
Hall said. “Her leadership on the floor, her communication, taking tough shots,
rebounding the heck out of the ball. She’s a throwback with her mid-range game.
She’s a great player.”

Garfield took off after halftime, outscoring Lake
Washington, which was playing in its first state-title game since 1999 and was
2-18 two seasons ago, 22-8 in the third quarter.

“The greatest challenge for us was everyone was against us,”
Fiso said. “Everyone is always against us. But we came together, we fought
together and now we’re going out with two gold balls together (referring to the
boys and girls winning state titles).”

WHAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE?

Dalayah Daniels had her best game of the state tournament,
saving it for her last. She scored 12 of her 18 points in the second half, and
when the 6-foot-4 Cal commit was stepping beyond the arc and hitting 3-pointers
you know it’s going to be a rough day for the other team.

“I was struggling in the tournament, getting in foul
trouble,” Daniels said. “But I knew I had to come in here today and give my
team the best of my abilities. We just came out and played together and we fought.
We fought.”

TURNING POINT

Daniels started the second half with a 3-pointer and then it
was off to the races, with Garfield going on a 12-2 run to push its lead to
35-22.

And Lake Washington struggled offensively, turning the ball
over 17 times, though sophomore point guard Rosa Smith led the Kangaroos with
17 points on 5 of 15 shooting.

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Dalayah Daniels, Garfield’s five-star recruit headed to Cal,
finished with a game-high 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting, while Meghan Fiso had
nine points and eight rebounds and Kira Wood hit three 3-pointers.

QUOTABLE

Many thought Garfield was the odds-on favorite to win the
title to start the season, before the Bulldogs went though some lumps,
especially with injuries, and finished second in the 3A Metro League behind
Eastside Catholic, which lost to Lake Washington in the semifinals on Friday. They
even had to win a loser-out regional game over Prairie just to get to the
Tacoma Dome.

“Just all the injuries, one after another after another,” Hall said. “First it was our starting point guard, Sahcari Davis, who should have been out for the year with a torn ACL and she came back early. My other guard hyper-extended her knee, my forward bruises her thumb and my big hurt her ankle. It was like one after another after another. 

GAME HIGHLIGHTS

Follow TJ Cotterill on Twitter @TJCotterill.