RICHMOND -- Mariya Moore may have put Salesian High girls basketball on the map, but the Pride is playing for a CIF Open Division state title Saturday in Sacramento because she's not the only weapon.
Two defining stretches earlier this season helped Salesian (30-6) go from a team that didn't even play in last year's Open Division playoffs to one that will line up opposite Long Beach Poly (26-3), the No. 4 ranked team in the nation, in the premier girls state game Saturday at 6 p.m. at Sleep Train Arena.
Though some remarkable performances from its Louisville-bound McDonald's All-American have certainly carried Saleisan at times, the Pride is also still playing because of improvements by Moore's teammates.
The first pivotal moment for the Pride came at the Nike Tournament of Champions in late December when Moore came down with a severe flu bug. Though Salesian lost both games she missed, her absence sparked a team meeting about the importance of others carrying the load at times.
"Mariya is a true basketball gift, but sometimes you rely on that player almost as a crutch," Salesian coach Steve Pezzola said. "We'd been working with the girls all season that Mariya will make us better and will make you better, but we have to make the team better. Slowly but surely, we have different people stepping up at all times."
The second important stretch came soon after a 60-56 loss to Bishop O'Dowd on Jan. 11. Salesian beat three elite teams -- Oregon power South Medford, Miramonte and St. Mary's -- in a span of five days as part of a streak of 20 wins in its last 21 games.
"There was a succession of big games that really made it click for us, that we can be that team that goes all the way," senior Zoe Correal said.
The Pride also received a midseason boost from Acalanes transfer JulieAnne Martin and Moore's sophomore sister, Minyon, who slowly returned from two knee injuries to play a significant role in the regional playoff run.
Senior forward Deja Stallworth and junior guard Kian McNair also delivered strong games in last week's 78-64 Northern Regional final win over Miramonte when Mariya Moore got in foul trouble.
"In games even when I do really well, they step up in those, people may just not notice it as much as I do," Moore said. "The only way that I'm getting what I'm getting is because of either a board that they got or they fed me. I just feel like everyone finally realized the work that they do."
Against Long Beach Poly, with its stable of NCAA Division I players and big front line, Salesian will need everyone's best game. The Jackrabbits, who won a state title last year in Division I, feature 6-foot-3 forward Lajahna Drummer (UCLA), 6-1 forward Jada Matthews (Utah) and guard Arica Carter (Louisville), to name a few.
"They're very tall, very athletic, very skilled and offensive rebound like crazy," Pezzola said. "We're going to have to keep them off the boards. ... We might surprise some people, but we're going to run."