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AZTEC – The Aztec girls basketball team’s defense gave rival Piedra Vista fits all night.

The Lady Tigers stayed in a 3-2 zone for the majority of the game and never gave PV a chance to break through, picking up a 58-50 win Thursday night at Lillywhite Gym.

“We did a pretty good job, but we didn’t execute to the level we’re supposed to, but the girls came out and did a really good job on defense,” Aztec head coach Robert McCaskill said. “If we want to achieve our goals, we need to step up and execute. We need to execute our game plan and focus on what needs to happen, and they came out and did that.”

The game started with a bit of confusion, and before the clock started, Aztec led 1-0. Prior to the opening tip, PV was called for a technical foul after having the wrong jersey number of one of its players listed in the official scorebook.

When the game did get underway, both teams showed nerves in their District 1-5A openers, and after a first quarter marred by turnovers, the Lady Tigers led 13-11.

“We’re a young team, it was our first district game and they're not used to playing in this kind of basketball environment and the things that come with the moment,” McCaskill said. “They did an outstanding job managing it, handling it, and they got through it.”

Scoring runs highlighted the second quarter.

Aztec (15-4, 1-0 District 1-5A) started the quarter on a 7-1 run during the first 2:45. During that stretch, PV’s offense couldn’t manage much, but seniors Nykki Benally and Monique Russell later got the Lady Panthers (10-5, 0-1) going. Benally nailed a 3-pointer from about 24 feet out, then Russell knocked down a pair of triples for PV to answer with a 9-0 run and take a 21-20 lead with 2:10 left before halftime.

But Aztec answered and closed the half on a 5-0 run.

It was during the third quarter that the Lady Tigers clamped down on defense. In its 3-2 zone, Aztec extended its pressure on PV’s guards and created tough passing lanes and shots for the Lady Panthers.

“Our passing angles were a little different, and we didn’t do a good job of passing the ball today,” PV head coach Joe Reed said. “We had countless turnovers, rebounds going through our hands and giving it right back to them.”

Behind its defense, Aztec outscored PV 16-8 in the third quarter to take a 41-29 advantage into the fourth.

In the final quarter, Aztec maintain a double-digit lead until inside the final minute when the Lady Panthers put together a late charge.

Trailing 56-47, the Lady Panthers came up with a steal in the backcourt and found Russell for her third 3-pointer of the game to make it 56-50 with 38 seconds remaining.

After Russell’s bucket, PV called a timeout to set up its defense. But the Lady Tigers broke through the press with ease, and Grace Olsen found Sierra Sanders for an uncontested layup to seal the victory.

Makayla McCaskill led Aztec with 15 points, while Myra McCaskill added 14.

Benally scored 14 of her game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter to lead PV. Russell finished with 11.

Aztec will host Farmington (8-7, 1-0) on Saturday, while PV hosts undefeated Gallup (15-0) the same day.

“It doesn’t get any easier. Night in and night out, it’s going to be a grind,” Reed said of the Gallup game. “You have to win your home games. With Gallup not having lost a game yet, it’s going to be tough. We scouted them three or four times, so we have a good game put together, and we’ll see if we can get it done.”

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.

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