Girls basketball: Oxbridge Academy earns first state playoff berth

Oxbridge Academy freshman Nashani Gilbert-Taylor has three games of playoff basketball under her belt. She’s a major reason why she and her teammates will get at least one more.

The guard scored 14 points, many of which came in key spots, as the ThunderWolves defeated visiting Tampa Catholic 57-37 in the Class 5A regional finals Friday, propelling Oxbridge to its first state playoff appearance in school history.

“‘Shani’s a special player,” Oxbridge coach Tracy Wolfe said. “She’s going to do a lot of great things for us. … She stepped up today. She hasn’t had a lot of big games like that, but we knew she was capable of big games like that.”

Gilbert-Taylor did not score in the first quarter, and Tampa Catholic jumped out to a quick 8-1 lead. But Oxbridge fought back and tied the game at 13 by the time the first buzzer sounded.

Gilbert-Taylor’s first points came late in the second quarter, and her 3-pointer put the ThunderWolves ahead for the first time and they never trailed by more than two points again.

Gilbert-Taylor hit another key 3-pointer in the third quarter, giving Oxbridge a seven-point lead. Then she scored the first points of the fourth quarter, extending Oxbridge’s lead from three to six. She scored eight of her 14 points in the final quarter.

“I was just thinking I needed to step up,” Gilbert-Taylor said.

Like Gilbert-Taylor, the ThunderWolves caught fire in the fourth quarter. Oxbridge outscored Tampa Catholic 23-6 in the final quarter.

“It’s our pressure,” guard Alexa Zaph said. “They can’t handle our pressure. In the second half, we come more together as a team, whereas most teams just fall apart and they get tired.”

Zaph finished third on the team with 13 points, behind guard Aaliyah Stanley’s 16 and Gilbert-Taylor’s 14. Nine of Zaph’s points came on 3-pointers, and the ThunderWolves hit nine 3s in total. Oxbridge needed their outside shots to fall as it struggled to get insie because of Tampa Catholic’s size advantage.

Oxbridge travels to Lakeland to face Orlando-Jones in Wednesday’s state semifinals.

“I don’t think it’s set in yet,” Wolfe said of the win. “But we wanted this. I wanted this, we wanted this — but we still have a job to do.”

Boca Raton 70, Parkland-Douglas 55: Grace Marko scored 27 points and Rachel Levy added 18 as the Bobcats (25-6) overpowered the Eagles. Boca Raton will face Orlando-Olympia in the state semifinals Friday.

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