Kaela Hilaire was already a scoring sensation, but after she faced North Shore in December, she became an Internet sensation.
She had 50 points in that game and a video of her crossover dribble that sent a defender to the floor went viral. But it didn’t mean much to her because, “Winning is more important than anything,” she said.
And to get a win Friday night, Hilaire’s coach issued her a challenge: Defend Gabrielle Zaffiro, who entered the game as Nassau’s leading scorer at 29.3 points per game.
Challenge accepted! Hilaire not only had 30 points and 10 assists, but helped contain Zaffiro as Floral Park defeated North Shore, 64-52, in a girls basketball game to move into a tie for first in Conference A-III.
“I challenged Kaela after Zaffiro scored 41 points the other night,” Floral Park coach Mike Spina said. “I said, ‘I want you to be the first person to play man-to-man on her because people don’t think you play defense and you do.’”
She did Friday night, and also sprinkled in some of her famous crossover dribbles, no look passes and deep threes.
Floral Park doesn’t normally play man-to-man defense, and Hilaire doesn’t normally defend the opposing team’s best player. But Hilaire and the Knights helped limit the talented sophomore to five first-half points while opening a 13-point halftime lead.
“Usually I don’t guard the best player because coach wants me to save my energy for offense,” Hilaire said. “But giving me the challenge made me want to win more and I played harder, especially on defense.”
On the offensive end, Hilaire cut across the lane a few times, draw help defenders, and deliver pinpoint no-look passes to Natalie Hickman (nine points, nine rebounds) and Faith Balletta (eight points) for layups.
“Her movement is really good and it opens the floor up a lot,” Hickman said. “It was a great win and team effort.”
Hilaire, who took over the scoring lead at 28.9 points per game, hit a three from way beyond the arc that gave Floral Park (9-1) its biggest lead at 46-30 with 3:14 left in the third.
“This is huge, in my whole career we’ve only beat them once,” Hilaire said. “It’s like a championship game to us every year.”
Ashleigh Sheerin had 11 points for North Shore (9-1). Zaffiro finished with 21 points.
“I was having trouble with my shot and [Hilaire] guarding me wasn’t helping,” Zaffiro said. “And we put our best defenders on her but she is going to score her points no matter what.”