Adjust and win

Tigers mix up defensive, offensive sets to advance to Sweet 16 in Class 5A

Grand Junction’s Tori Catlett pulls down a rebound Friday night in the Tigers’ 53-49 victory over Monarch in the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs. Catlett scored 12 points and had three blocks for Grand Junction.

Elisha Jahnke, left, and Sydni Brandon, right, walk off the floor Friday night after leading the Tigers into the Sweet 16 for the first time in three years with a 53-49 victory over Monarch. Jahnke scored 13 points and Brandon 11 for Grand Junction, which will play Poudre on March 4 at Cherry Creek.

The Grand Junction High School girls basketball team plays good zone defense.

Before Friday’s Class 5A second-round state playoff game, coach Sam Provenza estimated the Tigers had played five quarters of man-to-man defense all season.

But with the third-seeded Tigers down 28-21 at halftime and No. 6 Monarch blasting the Tigers’ 3-2 zone from the corners, Provenza had to make a change.

Chalk it up to veteran players knowing the magnitude of the moment, because the defensive switch allowed Grand Junction (22-2) to come roaring back in the third quarter and win 53-49.

“We talked all about how important guarding the corners was,” Provenza said. “The zone just wasn’t cutting it, so we decided we’d take care of that by going man-to-man and roll the dice on that. It’s not something we’ve done a whole lot, but we have good athletes who understand the gravity of the situation.”

Monarch guards Raegen Rohn and Lauren Mendicino combined for five 3-pointers in the first half, all coming between the wing and the corner.

The Coyotes (17-8) also pushed the pace on offense and scored in transition. The only place Monarch struggled to score in the first half was in the paint.

Tori Catlett and Sarah Wilkinson limited the damage Monarch could do down low, and for the most part, did so without fouling. The Tigers committed only nine personal fouls, tied for a season low.

Catlett finished with three blocks and Wilkinson added one of her own.

Monarch’s offensive weakness quickly turned into a defensive weakness during the second half. Catlett and Wilkinson, accustomed to running a high-low post set, both started working on the low block.

Wilkinson used her 6-foot-1 frame to face up smaller defenders, and Catlett used back-side seals and entry passes lobbed in from Sydni Brandon to score her points. Catlett finished with 12 points and Wilkinson, who battled foul trouble, finished with six points and eight rebounds.

“They weren’t able to stop us down low,” Catlett said. “Most teams, when we get the ball down there, tend to body up. But these guys kind of ... we were able to use our moves on them. Also, they were trapping in the high post. So when that wasn’t working, we adjusted.”

Adjustment was key for Brandon as well.

After finishing with only two points at halftime, Brandon attacked the rim during the second half and sparked the 7-0 run that allowed Grand Junction to retake the lead with 1:56 remaining in the third quarter.

Although Monarch tied the game three more times, the Coyotes never regained the lead. Brandon finished with 11 points, making five of six free throw attempts, and notched seven assists.

To round out a balanced attack, Elisha Jahnke led the Tigers with 13 points. The senior hit a season-high three 3-pointers.

Jahnke said she felt tight during warm-ups, but after sinking her first 3-pointer, she knew she’d have a good shooting night.

This is the first time the Tigers have advanced past the second round since the 2010-11 season, when Jamie Derrieux and Fawn Brady led the Tigers to a Great Eight appearance. Brandon, a junior who has been the starting point guard the past two second-round exits, said she’s relieved the Tigers finally cleared that hurdle.

“It means a lot to me, having been on those two teams that didn’t make it past the second round,” Brandon said. “I think it means even more to the seniors, who just get another chance to play.”

Provenza added that last season’s second-round exit prepared the Tigers for high-pressure situations.

“Last year at Rock Canyon, you didn’t see any tears in the locker room, but you saw some kids that were upset,” Provenza said. “They were mad at themselves for not winning a game they felt like they could win, and that really carried over into the season.

“We would remind them of that feeling every once in a while, and when you get motivated athletes who win in everything they do, what happened today is the result you’re going to get.”


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