Lowell rallies to take title from Lincoln

Aki Kuwada had a feeling. Anna Bukareva had a clear mind and the confidence to prove him right.

Even with his Lowell girls’ basketball team down 10 points to Lincoln with less than 3 minutes remaining in Friday’s San Francisco Section final at Kezar Pavilion, Kuwada never let go of the idea that the Cardinals would find a way to climb back into it.

Ten minutes later, Bukareva had knocked down two free throws with 4.6 seconds left on the clock to cap a 12-0 game-ending run and a 48-46 win and the Lowell players were standing in line awaiting the presentation of their third championship trophy in a row.

Both teams now advance to next week’s NorCal tournament; pairings to be announced Sunday.

“I knew it would be a two- or three-point game because they’re such a great team,” Kuwada said. “But they’re also so young, I didn’t know if they would know how to finish us off. I give my girls so much credit for sticking with it.”

Sophomore Kristina Lum scored 11 of her game-high 17 points in the fourth quarter for Lowell, including a putback with 2:41 left to start the spurt and a driving layup with 24.2 remaining to tie the score at 46-46.

Lincoln (21-11) had a chance to regain the lead on its next possession but saw the front end of a 1-and-1 rim out; Jessi Miao (14 rebounds) snared the board for Lowell. Bukareva then grabbed Sabrina Lum’s missed 3-point try and got the rebound from her own errant putback attempt before drawing the foul.

“I was pretty confident — we just needed one,” Bukareva said. “I was just picturing practice and thinking ‘OK, this is just another free throw.’”

While Lowell celebrated, Lincoln players stared at the floor near their own bench in disbelief. For 3½ quarters, the Mustangs had played Lowell perfectly, forcing it into 17 turnovers and 12-of-45 shooting from the floor entering the final period. Hallie Meneses (13 points) had wowed the crowd with quick crossovers and deep 3-pointers, and Monique Thomas (six points, seven rebounds, four blocks) had controlled the paint.

But in the end it was Lowell again.

“We were a little shaky and we knew we had to step up,” said Bukareva, who has been a part of all three title-winning teams. “And this is an amazing way to sum up what this team is about.”

melliser@examiner.com

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