AZTEC — The Aztec girls basketball team wasted no time asserting its dominance over Crownpoint in the first round of the Lady Tiger Rumble in the Jungle tonight at Lillywhite Gym.
The Lady Tigers quickly built a double-digit lead and led 19-5 after the first quarter, then continued to pour it on the Lady Eagles (2-6) en route to a 61-14 victory.
After spending last week playing in a tourney in Las Vegas, Nev., the Lady Tigers got to see and play against some of the best teams in the nation, which served as an eye opener and motivation for the rest of the season.
“We came back from Las Vegas, and we lost a couple of games there, so coming back here we needed to set an example that we’re a much better team after playing the tournament in Las Vegas,” said Aztec junior guard Myra McCaskill, who scored all of her game-high 16 points in the first half.
Most of Aztec’s offense came from its defense, which forced numerous turnovers the Lady Tigers turned into breakaway layups.
The Lady Tigers (8-5) also had a wide balance of production offensively, getting field goals from 10 players.
Despite the lopsided win, Aztec coach Robert McCaskill said there were some things he wants the Lady Tigers to improve on moving forward.
“Our aggression wasn’t where I wanted it to be,” he said. “We didn’t start off like I wanted to start off, but I am pleased with the overall team effort. We executed a lot better than we did at the beginning of the season. It was a better effort, but I want to see more of what we learned in (Las) Vegas.”
With a 42-9 lead at halftime, Aztec had the luxury of resting its starters for the bulk of the second half.
With the starters on the bench, junior Tyler Shahan took over, scoring 9 of her 14 points in the second half.
McCaskill said Shahan’s recent growth is the result of a successful showing last week in Las Vegas.
“She found out that she could play with high-talent girls,” McCaskill said of Shahan. “It gave her a lot of confidence, and that was the one thing she was lacking. We always knew she could play, but her confidence level has been low.”
The win moves the Lady Tigers into the semifinals where they’ll meet Los Alamos (4-10) Friday.
Piedra Vista 44, Montrose, Colo., 34
The Piedra Vista girls basketball team was shorthanded for its matchup with Montrose, Colo., in the first round of the Lady Tiger Rumble in the Jungle in Aztec, but it didn’t seem to faze the Lady Panthers, who rolled to a 44-34 victory today at Lillywhite Gym.
PV was without starting point guard Alexis Long, who is out with a knee injury, but the Lady Panthers had multiple players step up with offensive and defensive production to fill the void.
“Considering how strange of a situation we were in, the girls came out and played hard tonight. You could tell there were some jitters at first, but once they calmed down they really executed,” said PV assistant Charles Druar, who was filling in for head coach Joe Reed while Reed served a one-game suspension. “We pressed our butts off all night, and it turned out in our favor. It was a good game.”
Defensively, PV (8-5) was in control nearly the entire game, speeding up Montrose (7-3) with its full-court press and creating multiple turnovers.
Leading the charge for the PV defense was junior Dani Russo, whose physicality seemed to ignite the Lady Panthers.
“She’s a physically player, and our team has lacked that at times,” Druar said of Russo. “She brings that to the floor every night for us, and the other girls have started to feed off of that.”
Kristi Lee Bennie led PV with 16 points. Russo finished with 8.
PV will play Durango, Colo., in the tourney’s semifinals at 4 p.m. Friday.
The two teams met on Dec. 6 in Durango when the Lady Demons (7-4) handed PV its first loss of the season with a 46-35 victory.
Durango, Colo., 40, Navajo Prep 31
Two weeks without a game or practice proved to be a difficult task for the Navajo Prep girls basketball team to overcome in the first round of the Lady Tiger Rumble in the Jungle today at Lillywhite Gym.
The Lady Eagles (7-2) fell behind early, allowing the Lady Demons (7-4) to build a 20-8 lead early in the second quarter, and were never able to overcome the deficit, eventually falling 40-31.
“Coming out after two weeks and not even having practice for those two weeks is going to take a toll,” Prep coach Rainy Crisp said. “It’s going to take some time to get their legs back, but overall, with the effort that they played with and provided today, that’s what I’m really pleased with.”
The Lady Eagles made runs throughout the game to cut into Durango’s lead. But every time Prep got the deficit to 7 or 8 points, the Lady Demons went on a run, pushing the lead back to 12 or more points.
The Lady Eagles got a boost from Chantel Wagner, who came off the bench and scored 14 of the team’s 16 points in the second half.
“She came out ready to shoot. We need that. She was spark for us to pick up our defense and our offense,” Crisp said of Wagner. “She was a spark coming off the bench. She really gave us what we needed to get going.”
Prep will play Montrose, Colo., (7-3) in the consolation bracket at 12:30 p.m. Friday.
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.