AZTEC — The Aztec girls looked like two completely different basketball teams during the Lady Tigers’ semifinal game against Los Alamos at the Lady Tiger Rumble in the Jungle today at Lillywhite Gym.
In the first half, the Lady Tigers couldn’t seem to do anything right. Bad shots, needless fouls, horrendous free-throw shooting and a plethora of turnovers limited them to 17 points in the half.
But in the second half, Aztec looked like a team capable of winning a district title, scoring 44 points on the way to a 61-33 victory.
“We didn’t play — at all,” Aztec coach Robert McCaskill said of the first half. “It seemed like they were nervous of being in front of the home crowd, and that’s something this team is not supposed to do. As I said (Thursday), it’s our starts. We cannot have starts like that. We can’t start slowly like that.”
In the first half, Aztec (9-5) drew 14 fouls against the Lady Hilltoppers (4-11), but failed to take advantage, making just seven of 19 free-throw attempts.
McCaskill said the poor free-throw shooting was likely the result of the nervous energy that plagued the team throughout the half.
Fortunately for the Lady Tigers, Los Alamos wasn’t able to capitalize on Aztec’s struggles, and the two went into halftime with the Lady Hilltoppers leading 18-17.
The Lady Tigers finally shook off the nerves after halftime with sisters Makayla and Myra McCaskill taking over the offense. Makayla McCaskill knocked down an early 3-pointer to get the team’s confidence going and connected on all four of her free throws after missing seven attempts in the first half, while Myra McCaskill scored 12 points in the quarter. Behind the McCaskill sisters’ combined 19 points in the third, Aztec outscored Los Alamos 24-12 to take control of the game.
In the fourth quarter, senior post Kamrynn Phelps took charge, scoring 9 points in the quarter.
“In the second half, we played with a purpose,” Robert McCaskill said. “Everything we did in the first half was wrong, but we came out in the second half, and we played a lot better. We started focusing on what we were supposed to be doing.”
Myra McCaskill led the Lady Tigers with 18 points. Makayla McCaskill finished with 11, and Phelps added 10.
The win moves Aztec into the tourney’s final, where the Lady Tigers will face Durango, Colo., (8-4) at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Durango, Colo., 38, Piedra Vista 34
Similar to the first time Piedra Vista faced Durango, Colo., (8-4) the Lady Panthers struggled to contain Durango guard Katrina Chandler, who scored 17 of the Lady Demons’ 38 points to edge PV 38-34 in the semifinals of the Lady Tiger Rumble in the Jungle today at Lillywhite Gym.
While Chandler cut through PV’s defense with her speed, the real difference in the game was a poor second quarter when the Lady Panthers (8-6) were held to just 3 points.
“We went to sleep in the second quarter, and it ended up biting us in the rear,” PV coach Joe Reed said. “It’s hard to recover from a 3-point quarter.”
In the second half, PV switched up its lineup and defense, moving to a smaller lineup and subbing Keylie Kemple and Hannah Sayyeau in and out for each other to face Chandler at guard. The changes worked, and the Lady Panthers cut into Durango’s lead and tied the game at 32 with 4:10 remaining.
Three minutes later, with the score tied at 34, Chandler weaved through the PV defense, going coast to coast for a layup to retake the lead.
PV had a couple of chances to tie, but couldn’t convert.
Chandler knocked down a pair of free throws in the final seconds to secure the win.
Elli Wright led PV with 12 points. Dani Russo added 10.
PV will face Los Alamos (4-11) in the third-place game at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Montrose, Colo., 40, Navajo Prep 39
Martinique Larvingo did all she could by netting 18 of Navajo Prep's 39 points, but the Lady Eagles' late-game comeback efforts fell just short this afternoon against Montrose, Colo.
The Lady Indians sneaked out of Lillywhite Gym with a 40-39 win over Prep (7-3) on the second day of the Lady Tiger Rumble in the Jungle, despite leading by as many as 12 in the second half. Montrose tried to give the game away multiple times in the final 30 seconds.
Larvingo scored a gritty put-back basket with 25 seconds to go in the fourth quarter to cut Montrose's lead to 3, then she was fouled from beyond the 3-point arc moments later, but hit only two of three free throws.
On the ensuing possession, the Lady Indians turned the ball over in the back court with 13.8 seconds left to set Prep up with a chance to win the game.
But the defense of Montrose (8-3) flustered the Lady Eagles, who only managed a desperation heave from nearly 15 feet down the left baseline. Prep coach Rainy Crisp said the final play was a 4-low designed to isolate Larvingo against a defender, but the play never materialized.
"We rushed too much at the end," Crisp said. "We had 12 seconds, and we thought that we had five or something. We needed to set ourselves up for a good play, and we just rushed it."
The Lady Eagles will try to score at least one win at the Aztec tourney on Saturday morning when they play Crownpoint (2-7) at 9.
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.