Gateway’s Jackson ready to defend WPIAL girls basketball title
Lexi Jackson wants another WPIAL championship.
Satisfaction with just one doesn’t register with Gateway’s 6-foot-3 junior forward.
“We just need to go out, be aggressive, play hard every possession and go from there,” said Jackson, a second-year starter for a Gators team poised to again challenge for the Class 5A title.
Jackson, the team’s scoring leader at 18 points a game, tallied a team-best 23 points and added 16 rebounds Thursday in a 68-25 win over Plum to close out the Section 2-5A slate.
Gateway (18-3, 11-1) locked up its first section title since 2013.
“Lexi has been a lot more consistent than she’s been in the past,” Gateway coach Curtis Williams said. “Defensively, she’s gotten a lot better. She understands what opponents are doing, and she’s rotating, rebounding and blocking shots.
“Offensively, she’s worked hard on making her jump shot better, and she’s taking advantage of her opportunities at the free throw line.”
Williams said efficiency has been a key to Jackson’s game.
“Last year, she averaged about 15 points a game, but it probably took her 22 or so shots to do it,” Williams said. “This year, she’s averaging around 18 points a game, but she’s doing it on 10 to 12 shots.”
Jackson helped Gateway overcome section rival Franklin Regional when the teams met in a top-five matchup Jan. 17 at Franklin Regional High School.
While Panthers’ star senior guard and Charlotte commit Cali Konek lit it up from outside and finished with a game-high 22 points, Jackson was dominant in the paint for the Gators.
Jackson finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds to lead Gateway to a 50-46 victory.
“The first time we played Franklin Regional, I felt I wasn’t playing the way I should have,” Jackson said. “The second time around, I knew what I needed to do for my team.
“It was such a big win for us because we were tied in the section at that point. It was a great atmosphere. They had their student section and we had our fans. It was definitely loud in the gym.”
Franklin Regional rebounded from the loss to Gateway to win six in a row, including its final four in section play, to finish as runner-up.
Jackson was quick to point out that while the offense has produced good numbers in numerous games this season, the defensive performances have been a key aspect of the team’s ability to maintain its standing near the top in Class 5A.
Gateway’s win over Plum on Thursday was its eighth in a row. The Gators allowed 35 points a game during the streak that started after a 59-47 loss to Oakland Catholic (19-2) on Jan. 12.
“We’re using our length to our advantage with rebounding, and we are not giving our opponents good shots,” Jackson said. “It’s a team effort.”
The Class 5A playoff pairings, along with dates, times and locations, were to be released Tuesday evening. The first round is scheduled to begin Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.
Gateway will be one of the top seeds, along with undefeated Chartiers Valley (22-0), as well as Oakland Catholic, Thomas Jefferson, Penn Hills and section rival Franklin Regional.
Jackson said she feels she and her teammates have targets on their backs after last year’s run to the WPIAL championship.
“We have to be ready as everyone will be looking to take our title,” Jackson said.
Jackson’s efforts on the court have not gone unnoticed as she already is fielding offers from several Division I schools. They include Western Michigan, James Madison, North Carolina A&T and Radford.
“It definitely makes me feel good that these schools recognize what I’ve done and show interest in me, but I try to not let it get to me and affect how I am playing,” she said. “Sometimes, I don’t even think about it.”
Williams said that when the time comes, a college program will benefit from Jackson’s talents.
“Lexi has been working really hard at getting better, and it’s good to see her get some of the accolades and the attention that comes with it from outside of the Gateway community,” Williams said.
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at [email protected] or via Twitter @MLove_Trib.