GJ comes up short
ThunderRidge tops Tigers in physical, defensive game
With under two seconds remaining Wednesday and the Grand Junction High School girls basketball team trailing ThunderRidge 38-35, Sydni Brandon was nearly tackled by a pair of defenders while taking a quick 3-pointer off an inbounds pass. She hit the ground with an audible thud and was awarded three free throws.
Her first free throw, nearly perfect in placement, bounced out off the back of the rim instead of in. A fraction of an inch from making the shot, Brandon wrapped her arms over her head in frustration, then drained the second shot. Brandon then placed her final shot on the back of the rim to create a long rebound. Everyone crashed the boards, and Brandon tumbled toward the baseline as the ball squirted toward the sideline, and the Tigers fell 38-36.
The final moments of the nonleague game perfectly illustrated the physicality, defensive intensity and all-out effort of the matchup. Brandon, along with Erika Meister and Shafer Rubalcaba, brought the Tigers (16-2) roaring back from a six-point deficit at halftime to challenge the No. 8 Grizzlies in the final four minutes.
Meister scored five points on back-to-back possessions late in the third quarter to bring the Tigers within three points. Rubalcaba, with a mix of post scoring and jump shots, anchored the offense during the fourth quarter, even after a wayward elbow gave her a bloody nose.
Elisha Jahnke also had a solid offensive night, leading the Tigers with 10 points.
But the obvious target of ThunderRidge’s trap-heavy, 2-3 zone was Brandon, whom the Grizzlies tried to corral with varying levels of success.
Brandon finished with three points, but she was the ultimate distributor and part of a strong defensive performance Tigers’ coach Sam Provenza said is something to build on. Grand Junction held the Grizzlies 15 points below their scoring average.
“Very good defensive team right there,” Provenza said of ThunderRidge. “I think what we did out there defensively was take them out of their offense, and that kept us in it. I think, more than anything, today showed an understanding that these kids know how hard they have to play all of the time. They gave an all-out effort out there and played 32 solid minutes of defense.
“But I think that they need to realize that the intensity needs to be on both ends of the floor. You need to have that same kind of intensity on offense.”
Provenza said the emergence of Rubalcaba and Jahnke as consistent offensive threats will help late in the season.
“It’s very important late in the season, and I think the kids know that,” Provenza said. “They’re confident in their abilities, and they know that they’re going to pick up the slack. It’s not like they’re out there to support one person, they’re out there to support the team, and I think that is what is happening.”