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Forecast: Lightning

Things tend to happen in an instant when Jhinnae Clark is on the basketball court.

Someone throws a lazy pass or misjudges Clark's leaping ability and ... zoom!

In the blink of an eye, the Merced College sophomore guard is frantically blazing off on a breakaway.

It's here, where the woman her teammates call "Lightning," has to fight her instincts.

With everyone else on the court fruitlessly struggling to catch up, Clark has to force herself to slow down.

It's not the easiest task for a player who thrives on energy and speed, but with a large number of missed lay-ups sitting in the back of her mind, Clark forces herself to focus.

"My coach told me I have to be under control and go fast at the same time," Clark said. "He has me find a mark and try to slow down. I usually start to slow down when I get to the box.

"It's tough because my head is telling me, 'The defense is coming, you gotta go.' "

The Lady Devils have struggled with their shooting percentage all season, hovering around 33 percent -- which makes the lay-up woes all the more frustrating for coach Allen Huddleston.

"If we could just consistently make our lay-ups, we'd have three or four more wins on the year," Huddleston said. "The thing with Jhinnae is, she's so tough to stop when she's on her way to the basket.

"She's so quick, can get in the lane anytime she wants. It's just a matter of focusing after that.

"She would probably be the team's leading scorer if she hit all her lay-ups."

Clark has made a lot of progress, though.

Always a tenacious defender and rebounder, Clark has developed into an all-around threat. Her scoring average has steadily risen over to 6.1, and she's averaged just about 10 points in MC's last six games.

It's no coincidence that the Lady Devils (3-0 CVC, 16-10) -- ranked No. 15 in Northern California -- have won five of those six games heading into tonight's Central Valley Conference showdown with No. 1 Fresno (3-0 CVC, 25-2).

With Fresno averaging 85.3 points (108 in league play), MC will look for Clark to maintain that offensive production against the state's top scoring team.

But points or not, the one thing is the Lady Devils know they can count on from Clark is effort.

"We call her 'Lightning,' because she's the fastest thing out there," sophomore forward Fantasia Newsome said. "She's not big, so a lot of teams underestimate her, but they learn.

"Even when the rest of the team comes out flat, you can count on Jhinnae to be picking up everyone else's energy. She always gives us a spark."

What else you would expect from "Lightning"?