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TOWN AND COUNTRY • Aijha Blackwell used her long arms to gently corral the rebound.

The Whitfield junior quickly zipped down court. She used a nifty behind-the back dribble to elude two defenders before blowing past three more with a breathtaking spin move through the lane that left fans on both sides wide-eyed.

Blackwell then smoothly rolled the ball off her fingertips. It hit the back of the rim — and clanked out.

"Wow, such a neat move," Whitfield junior guard Nia Griffin said.

The first-half mistake was about the only one Blackwell made Tuesday.

Blackwell scored 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Warriors to a 65-51 win over Parkway North in the quarterfinal round the Visitation Christmas Tournament.

Whitfield, which has won nine in a row since a season-opening loss to defending Class 5 state champion Kirkwood, will take on Incarnate Word (6-2) in a semifinal game at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Top-seeded IWA has won the tournament eight times in the last nine seasons.

The multi-talented Blackwell added five assists and three steals to one of her best all-round performances of the season.

The 6-foot guard — yes, guard — has taken her already-impressive game up a notch this season.

"She's adapting and developing in every aspect," Whitfield coach Mike Slater said. "I think she's learning that she's our leader and she has to do what's best for the team on that given day. And it's been great to watch her game mature."

Blackwell fashioned several highlight-reel moments in the Warriors' second win over North this season. Whitfield won a 78-64 contest at home on Dec. 11.

Her no-look pass to junior Ariel Jennings resulted in a basket and a 40-31 lead late in the first half.

"It's just as fun to set my teammates up for points," Blackwell said.

Blackwell set an early tone with an in-your-face block of Amaya Stovall in the second minute of the contest.

"We're bigger and we wanted to take advantage of that," Blackwell said.

Junior Tajah Foster-Walker, a 6-foot-1 post player, added 16 points to the winning attack. Her presence inside gives the Warriors a deadly 6-foot inside-outside duo that could help them return to the state tournament after a second-place finish last season.

"That's what we're pushing for," said Griffin, who averages nine points per game.

The Warriors used their size to outmuscle the Vikings (7-2), who beat Cor Jesu in the opening round of the 43rd annual 16-team affair.

They parlayed a 12-3 run over the final 3 minutes and 57 seconds of the first half to take a 40-31 lead. Whitfield then put the game away with an 11-2 blitz over the first 5:03 of the second half.

Whitfield led by as many as 21 points before coasting home.

"They had a lot more size than us," said North junior Je'Naiya Davis, who scored a game-high 23 points. "But we didn't do a good job of fighting through it."

Blackwell started the second-half blitz with a 3-pointer from WNBA range. Griffin followed with a basket before Blackwell sank a pair of foul shots. Foster-Walker pumped the lead to 51-33 with a basket from close range.

"We knew we'd have to come out and earn every bit of this win, which we did," Slater said. "I was definitely pleased with their effort."

Blackwell has heard from numerous top NCAA Division I programs and plans on chopping the list to a final 10 schools within the next few months.

But first, she and her teammates have their eyes set on a return trip to the final four.

"Losing (in the title game) last year is still on our minds," Griffin said. "It's part of our thinking to get back there and do it right this time."

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