ALBUQUERQUE – In the final seconds of its 5A quarterfinal game against rival Gallup, the Piedra Vista girls basketball team had a chance to extend its season with a 3-pointer from one of its best shooters, senior Monique Russell.
After the Lady Bengals missed on the front end of a one-and-one free throw, Russell, who had already connected on four 3s in the game, found space in the right corner and launched the shot over Gallup’s 6-foot-1 Ni’Asia McIntosh.
The shot was online, but a hair too long, bouncing off the back of the rim as the final buzzer sounded to give Gallup a 66-63 win and keep its undefeated season intact.
“I wanted it to go in so we could have a chance to win and go on to the next round. I wanted to see my teammates bundle around me. It would have been the happiest moment of my life, but it didn’t go in,” Russell said of the final shot.
The fact that PV had a chance to send the game to overtime could be a victory in itself. Throughout the game, the Lady Panthers were outworked and outrebounded, losing the battle of the boards 54-35. But the Lady Panthers never let up and fought until the final buzzer.
“I think they just wanted it more. We got down and couldn’t grab a board. Their bigs wiped our bigs all over the floor tonight,” PV head coach Joe Reed said. “To be outrebounded that bad and still have a chance to send it into overtime is a testament to how hard these girls fight for each other.”
PV started the game with no fear of playing in The Pit and in front of a big crowd, jumping out to a quick 5-0 lead. But the Lady Bengals responded with a 12-0 run.
Needing a spark, PV sophomore Hannah Sayyeau came off the bench and hit back-to-back 3-pointers to bring the Lady Panthers back within one at 12-11 late in the first quarter.
Gallup maintained the lead through the first part of the second quarter, building it to as much as 22-14, but a Nykki Benally 3 with four minutes remaining before halftime got the Lady Panthers going again.
The Benally triple sparked a 13-4 run for the Lady Panthers, capped by a Monique Russell 3 that gave PV a 27-26 halftime lead.
Gallup retook the lead early in the third quarter and pushed its advantage to the largest of the game at 50-40. The Lady Bengals held a 10-point advantage on a few occasions, but PV always seemed to respond when it needed, and usually from beyond the arc.
Midway through the fourth, Gallup looked poised to put the game out of reach, breaking through PV’s full-court press with ease to convert easy layups. But Sayyeau connected on a 3 to bring the Lady Panthers within 4 points, and after a quick Gallup bucket, Benally knocked down another triple on the next possession to make it 56-53 Gallup with 3:32 remaining.
“I was very worried about this game because we already played them twice in our district,” Gallup head coach Kamau Turner said. “This was one of my bigger worries. I was a lot more worried about this one than I bet a lot of coaches were for their quarterfinal matchup.”
Benally led PV with 24 points. Russell finished with 12 points and six assists, and Wright added 10 points and nine rebounds.
The loss ends PV’s season, but not before the Lady Panthers sent a message to the rest of the state.
“We kind of felt disrespected by the (No.) 9 seed. We thought we were better than that, and tonight we showed we are better than a (No.) 9 seed. Our district was tough, but the selection committee didn’t think so and frowned down on our district for some reason. But to be the best, you have to beat the best, so we relished this opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the state and just came up short tonight.”
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.